Yasir Shah returns to Australia with a point to prove

Yasir Shah celebrates his 200th Test wicket AFP

Yasir Shah was on in the 11th over of the innings. This was not a surprise. Misbah-ul-Haq used to regularly bring on Yasir as early as that, because of how successful he had been but also because Pakistan had no allrounder who could take up the slack from a three-man pace attack.

He was bowling to two left-handers, David Warner and Matt Renshaw, and his first ball to the former was on leg stump. His first four balls were on that line. There wasn't a single one on off stump until his 22nd delivery. In that first session, nearly a third of Yasir's deliveries were on leg stump.

Nerves? Pink ball? No, this was actually a plan. Misbah had a slip in but six men on the leg side. For his leading, match-winning, record-breaking legspinner's first over, the 11th over of the series; a plan, but not much of one. Unsurprisingly it didn't reap great rewards and neither at the MCG, where they persisted with those fields.

Yasir took ownership of the strategy, but no chance: this was a combination of Misbah's caution in wanting to control run-rates and also a lack of trust in Yasir. Now there's an insurmountable insecurity in any equation where a bowler who has taken, until then, nearly six wickets a Test over 20 Tests for his captain, still doesn't have the trust of said captain. But Misbah knows spin and his fear was rooted in his assessment that the truer, bouncier surfaces of Australia were not where Yasir danced. He was happier on low, slow numbers.

The strategy bombed. Misbah was right and wrong. Yasir went for nearly four runs an over across the first two Tests, and over five an over at the MCG. Sydney, meanwhile didn't happen, it being a city that no longer exists for Pakistanis. He ended the series with eight wickets and it's impossible to remember a single one. The legspinning moment you may recall is Steven Smith done by a beaut on that first evening at the Gabba, the last over before the dinner break. Had Sarfaraz Ahmed taken that, Australia would have been 180 for 4 and who knows, right? Azhar Ali bowled it.

Three years have passed but the narrative arc of Yasir's career that took hold in those Tests has only strengthened. Yasir produced moments of genius before that series and has continued to do so after. His numbers after that series, in fact, are sensational, more so than before - and they were something before. But whatever aura he had - multiplied by whatever love Shane Warne threw his way - was shattered on that tour. A good, even great bowler, in certain conditions, but such a liability elsewhere that Pakistan could drop him like he was Jason Krejza and not the fastest man to 200 Test wickets.

So how (*shudder*) will he go this time? Getting into the XI would be a start, because he's not the nailed-on starter for the first Test a man with his record should be. He was a peripheral presence in Pakistan's last Tests, in South Africa. He took only one wicket in two Tests but his marginalisation is reflected more by him bowling less than 33 overs in total. In the UAE, he might bowl that many in a day.

He's not set the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy alight either. He's the sixth-highest wicket-taker in the tournament, but four of the five ahead of him are spinners with far superior averages, strike rates and economy rates. Yasir's 67.43 strike rate and near-40 average are actually very Kaneria.

And in the time since he was last here, Pakistan have found, benefited from, and then discarded not one but two bowling allrounders who, in the four Tests they have played together, have scored four fifties and taken 22 wickets between them. Neither is here, despite ten wickets between them in their last Test, the last Pakistan played.

Why this tangent? Well it's not, because as was evident last time in Australia - and always is when Pakistan go away - they could really do with a five-man attack. They're still making fast bowlers as exciting as before but not, sadly, robust enough to be part of a trio. It's Yasir who picks up the slack but it's Yasir who could really, really do with a five-man attack because nobody has bowled more overs per Test - nearly 54 - than him since his debut. Only three bowlers have bowled more Test overs in that time and each of Nathan Lyon, R Ashwin and Stuart Broad have played between 13 and 23 more Tests.

The one thing we can all agree on is that Yasir is constantly bowling more overs than is humanly advisable. In theory, Pakistan do have an allround option in Iftikhar Ahmed but in theory, as he is untested at this level.

If Yasir does play, then the job might be the unsexy one, of being a run-drier at one end. That was partly the plan last time, but the execution was muddled. The general advice, including from Misbah, was that Yasir needed to slow his pace down. But, to Misbah's eye, that cutback was causing Yasir to lose control of his lengths so he didn't do it because finding the right lengths was what Yasir in his first years was all about.

On limited evidence from the first tour game against Australia A, there may be hope. Yasir ticked three boxes that he didn't in 2016-17: he was slower and didn't mess his lengths, he was a little loopier, and he got some drift. From around the wicket, he was attacking the lefties.

Also, he came on to bowl when Australia A were 44 for 6.

But also, a parting stat to mess with your head. What's the one wicket Pakistan - and the world - want more than anyone else's right now? Steven Smith.

Who's dismissed Smith six times in five Tests, only behind Stuart Broad who's dismissed him eight times but in 24 Tests? Who does Smith average 31.76 against? Which is the only kind of right-arm bowling that he averages less than 50 against (a win in Smith's metric-scape)? The answers: Yasir, Yasir, and legspin.

Smith averaged 110.25 last time around and scored runs for fun, so it's not like he's Yasir's bunny. But if there's other more obvious ways to get him out, feel free to mail it in.