Shane Shillingford is not a glamorous spinner. He's never been picked in the IPL auction, he's never had overwhelming success at any level, but slowly and surely he's establishing himself as West Indies' premier spinner. He could have considered himself unlucky to have been dropped for the effervescent Sunil Narine, not long after taking the first 10 wicket match haul by a West Indian spinner since Lance Gibbs, but he looks set for a long spell in the side now after picking up 5/59 on the first day of the Test against Zimbabwe.
Shillingford teased the Zimbabwean batsmen with turn and bounce along with just enough flight. He had them playing back to full balls, bowling spitting cobras jumping off a length which weren't even the wicket-taking balls. His first and last came from doosras, bowling Masakadza and trapping Chatara LBW. In between he got rid of Brendan Taylor reverse-sweeping and playing on, Waller slogging one up in the air and Utseya LBW to an off-break.
It can be argued that West Indies erred by not picking a second spinner. Veerasammy Permaul was the other option in the squad and can generally be relied on to provide an accurate spell of left arm spin, albeit from a remarkably fussy action akin to Phil Tufnell on speed.
Perhaps a better option would have been Sunil Narine, who would have provided some of the same qualities as Shillingford, but would not have duplicated him. Most selectors are reluctant to play two spinners of the same ilk, but Shillingford and Narine are hardly the same bowler. Shillingford is more of a wristy off-spinner, whilst Narine bowls more of a finger-spin, and whilst both have doosras, Shillingford's is the back of the hand version, whilst Narine bowls the knuckle/carrom ball.
The depth in West Indian spin bowling is better than it has perhaps ever been. Even in the days of Ramadhin and Valentine, or of Lance Gibbs, there was little below that level. Now Shillingford, Permaul and Narine compete for the Test spots, whilst Nikita Miller takes bucketloads at First-class level, and Devendra Bishoo seems forgotten. Add the likes of Yannic Cariah, Odeon Brown and Ashley Nurse amongst others and the spin warehouse is well stocked.
This abundance of spinners makes it all the more impressive that Shillingford is on top – for the time being – and his experience has won out over the more green Narine. Shillingford is over 30, and after his first five Tests in 2010 brought him 14 wickets at 56.79, he came back in 2012, and in his last five (including the ongoing one) he's picked up 29 at 23.10. Now he's got to continue this success, West Indies' next Tests assignment should be Pakistan in June, and he's a certain pick for that series. After that his long term future is in his own hands.