Shah hoping time has come
When Diogenes was discovered begging money from a statue he explained that he was "practising disappointment"; Owais Shah looks at England team sheets.
A degree of phlegm has entered the soul of this most urgent and animated of cricketers who has scored heavily and consistently in county cricket only to be ignored by the England selectors.
He appears as the game's prodigy turned pariah, a modern Mark Ramprakash, perhaps. But even Ramprakash's admirers cannot say he was not given a chance, for he won 52 Test caps.
Shah waited long and hard for his solitary Test cap. It came against India in Mumbai in March last year. He scored a dominating 88 and was run out for 38 in the second innings. England won the match and he has not played since. But all that could be about to change. Peter Moores, the new England coach, has worked with him in the last two winters and is known to be an admirer of his talents.
There is a sense that this could be Shah's time. At 28 he is probably at his peak. After fine-tuning his batting in the winter he has started the season with two centuries, for the MCC against Sussex and for Middlesex against Somerset at Taunton. He has also worked to overcome a long-term knee condition and has even proved himself to be a serviceable one-day off-spinner.
Certainly John Emburey, Middlesex's director of cricket, believes he is due a run in the England side. "Owais has never been backed at England level," he says. "Without doubt he should have won more than one cap. He got runs in his only opportunity and played very well against a good side in difficult conditions. I suppose centrally contracted players get longer runs.
"But they always look at the negatives rather than the positives with Owais. And the big positive is his match-winning ability. They have criticised his fielding - but that didn't stop them picking Monty Panesar, or Mal Loye or Tim Tremlett for that matter - so their argument doesn't add up. Anyway, he's worked very hard on his fitness and is much more agile and flexible in the field now. There has been a question mark about his concentration. But he has addressed that too and has the ability to play long innings.
"He is at his best at No3 in all forms of cricket. Michael Vaughan has got to produce the goods. He gets 70 and every-one says what a great 70. The same was said about Marcus Trescothick's 70 on a flat deck at Taunton - but Owais got 193 in the same match and nothing was mentioned."
In the one-day side, at least, he could be the man to replace Vaughan. The Karachi-born Shah would improve England's nebbish top order. With his high back-lift, wristy strength and dominating strokes all round the wicket, he would also be a more commanding Test No3 than Ian Bell, who might be better off lower in the order. Shah is also an excellent player of spin. He is so desperate to play that he says: "I wouldn't mind batting at No11 provided I was given a run at it. I do get frustrated at times. All I want is a fair crack."
It should have been so different. As a teenager he scored 232 for England Under-15s against England Under 16s. He made the England Under-19 team at 16 and played for the A team when 17.
When he made his one-day international debut in 2001 Duncan Fletcher, then England coach, said: "He brings something else to the party." But then the invitations dried up. There was not one, even in 2005 when he was the leading scorer in first-class cricket in England (1,728 at 66.46). He is a better player than Rob Key, who has played 15 Tests. Middlesex players rate him ahead of Ed Joyce, who played for England in the winter.
Are there off-field issues? He is hyperactive and very much his own man - but not in a disruptive sense. Marriage, and the expectation of a child in October, have softened him and Emburey adds: "He is a much more mature and rounded character these days."
Now, under Moores, Shah is hoping for belated recognition. "From January to March I worked really hard on my fitness with my best pal, the former Middlesex player James Hewitt. And in Perth I worked with coach Noddy Holder and tinkered with my batting. Nothing major. But I'm hitting the ball in better areas. I'm hitting it straighter and when I go square of the wicket I'm doing so with the whole face, instead of half of it."
Moores was with Shah in Perth and in contrast to Fletcher he is unlikely to ignore one of the most salient talents in the English game.