ROHIT SANKAR | 1 JULY, 2019
Shami the Roaring Rollercoaster Who’s Finally Earning Applause
Pace, bounce, movement, wickets and economy
Mohammed Shami’s international career is six years old and it’s been one hell of a ride for the fast bowler who hails from Sahaspur village in Uttar Pradesh. Known for his ability to seam the new ball and reverse the old, Shami was identified as a potent fast bowler early on.
He had always wanted to be one, much like his three brothers, but his father was quick to hone that raw skill by approaching a coach when Shami was yet young.
After failing to break into the Uttar Pradesh under-19 team, Shami was sent packing to Kolkata to ply his trade for Bengal. He made it to the under-22 West Bengal side and by 2010 had made his Ranji appearance.
What immediately struck everyone about Shami was that he not only had pace and disconcerting bounce, but was skiddy at the same time. Most fast bowlers who hit the deck hard generate extra bounce but Shami was doing both – skidding the ball off the surface and getting it to dart up.
Shami debuted for India in an ODI against Pakistan in January 2013. He delivered an economical nine-over spell and even picked up a wicket. He kicked off his T20 career the following year, also against Pakistan, in the opening match of the World T20 series.
But it was in Tests that the young Shami truly made a splash. Playing against the West Indies at Eden Gardens on a familiar wicket, he grabbed a four-wicket haul in the first innings and a fifer in the second, averaging 17.40 in that Test series.
World Cup 2015 and fallout
Despite the increasing inflow of Indian fast bowlers, Shami managed to stand apart from the rest. Economical in ODIs and a wicket-taker, he was drafted into the team for the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand and Australia.
Shami made good with a four-wicket haul against Pakistan at Adelaide, going on to finish the World Cup with 17 wickets in 7 matches, the fourth best World Cup performance by any bowler and the second best by an Indian.
What followed was a long on and off period in the limited-overs squad. Shami was still an integral part of the Test team but India were looking at younger pacers in ODIs, and Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had sealed their places as the top two quicks.
In Tests, however, he revelled, picking up 15 wickets in three Tests during the 2014-15 Border Gavaskar Trophy in Australia, and made a solid impression despite a horrendous series for the team.
What held him back constantly was injury, which also prevented him from winning back a place in the ODI squad. Shami was out of international cricket for nearly a year due to injury, and despite making it to the World T20 squad in 2016 he was warming the benches throughout.
Shami’s Test returns were always promising, but there was a constant tussle with other seamers for a place in the playing eleven. He was often accused of being lackadaisical in his opening spells before roaring back to life with the old ball.
Since 2017, though, Shami has been consistently terrific despite going through several issues on the personal front – in March this year he was charged with “subjecting to cruelty” his wife Hasin Jahan. He became a regular member of the Indian Test side where Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri preferred to build a pace attack.
Given proper backing, Shami thrived. In 2017 he grabbed 19 wickets in five Tests and in 2018, bettered it with 47 wickets in 12 Tests.
Shami’s superb Test form reflected in a change in the selectors’ mindset. By October last India had given up on finding a new third backer for Kumar and Bumrah in the nascent World Cup team. Shami was recalled to the limited-overs side after a year and a half for the home series against the Windies.
He didn’t make much of an impression in the two games he played, but joined the team in Australia and New Zealand for two more bilateral series. He picked up five wickets in three ODIs in Australia, and against New Zealand he shone with the ball, taking nine wickets in four ODIs while also being quite economical.
Shami returned for the series in India against Australia and was containing and quietly impressive. The IPL stint this time proved to be pivotal for him. He learned to mix in his variations to thrive in the shorter formats, and used a slower bouncer and yorker to good effect.
He was Kings XI Punjab’s highest wicket-taker in the season with 19 wickets in 14 games but importantly he showed the selectors that he could be handy in the death as well.
World Cup 2019
In the ongoing World Cup in England, Shami was initially left on the bench as India went with their trusted combination of Bumrah–Kumar together with the wrist spinners. It took an impromptu injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the match against Pakistan for Shami to get his chance.
Shami made an instant impact in the match against Afghanistan which went down to the wire.
Defending 15 in the final over, he conceded a four off the first ball but then sent back the dangerous Mohammad Nabi to give India a massive, timely wicket. He went on to nail two perfect full, inswinging deliveries, grabbing three wickets in three balls to complete the second ever World Cup hattrick by an Indian.
Shami still needed to cement his place, and in the match against the West Indies on Thursday, did just that with a four-wicket haul.
He dented the Windies early by strangling Chris Gayle with a short ball and then cleaning up Shai Hope with a ball that seamed back in. Two more wickets in the final hustle and Shami had four in his kitty.
With the England innings just over at the time of writing, Shami picked up the all-important wickets of centurion Jonny Bairstow, Morgan, Root and Buttler, finishing with 5 for 69.
Shami has already made quite an impression this World Cup, and could well keep Bhuvneshwar Kumar out of the team in the games to come.
ODI career in stats
Shami is the fastest Indian to 100 ODI wickets, completing the feat in 56 matches. He beat the likes of Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan to the landmark.
Shami has a terrific ODI record in England. He averages a miserly 13 in the country, his best in any nation in the format.
Since Shami’s comeback to the ODI setup in October last year, no Indian seamer has taken more wickets. After the World Cup game against the West Indies Shami had 30 wickets in 15 matches in the format in this time frame.
Shami is also India’s highest wicket-taker in ODIs in 2019 with 27 wickets up to the game against England.