While England have been getting routinely thrashed on their travels through India, there has been one ray of solace. Owais Shah, for so long underperforming and untrusted, has most certainly come of age. At 30, he is sure of himself and his game; in Kevin Pietersen, he appears to have found a captain who trusts him, even if it is bewildering that Shah continues to be up and down the order, from six to three, and back again.
The statistics for Shah of late are exceptional. Since the start of the English summer, he has played 13 innings, and scored 514 runs at an average of 47 and a strike-rate of 97. With his ability to manouevre the ball into gaps aided by his phenomenal hitting down the ground, the product of supreme batspeed, Shah has established himself as one of England's two best one-day batsmen, probably second only to his skipper Kevin Pietersen.
Pietersen showed great faith in Shah and promoted him to number three for the home series with South Africa. Many felt he was better off lower down the order, where his unorthodoxy and power hitting has proved so effective, but Shah hasn't exactly failed at three during this time, averaging over 40 in six innings. However, perhaps tellingly, his two best innings at three were in much-reduced matches, suggesting he is better when he knows exactly what is required of him. The argument does not completely hold up, though, given he has batted in the top three for Middlesex for years.
Clearly, England are confused over his best position. In the second game of this series, Shah made a somewhat slow 58 batting at three. He was promptly moved back down to six, scoring a useful 40 at nigh-on a run-a-ball. In game four, with England having only 22 overs to bat, many were mystified when Pietersen moved down from three, and Shah back up there. But Shah is probably England's best Twenty20 batsman, and proved as much with a fantastic 72 from 48 balls, treating the spinners and seamers with disdain, especially with his trademark flat-batted straight drive. Had he taken England home with a century, as seemed possible, Shah would have been a hero, but he nonetheless reminded all of his limited-overs skills. So it seemed bizarre when he was moved back down to six for the fifth game in the series. He seemed unflustered, however, providing England's innings with late-order impetus en route to 66*.
England seem convinced that Shah must bat at either three or six. But this seems ridiculous. Pietersen, as England's skipper and best batsman, should bat at three. Shah, not the out-of-form Paul Collingwood, should bat at four, where his dexterity against spin and at the end of the innings can be exploited, and he can be shielded from perceived weaknesses against the new seaming ball.
Owais Shah is playing the best cricket of his career. England seemed in danger of squandering a fine, albeit sometimes infuriating talent; after scoring 88 and 38 on Test debut in India two years ago, he played only three ODIs in the next fourteen months. Most bewilderingly of all, Ravi Bopara, then with just one ODI 50 to his name, was preferred to Shah for the series in Sri Lanka a year ago. England can't keep having Shah as their spare batsman. He is in form, knows the conditions and deserves a run in the Test side at last.
Through sheer force of runs, Shah has established himself as an indispensable member of England's one-day side, one of the very few players able to take the game with conviction to the opposition. Paul Collingwood may have struck a brilliant, career-saving hundred only two Tests ago. But, given their vastly contrasting form, who would India rather bowl to in the Tests?