Over the few conversations with Mohammed Shami, between training and waiting together at the airport, one thing was clear --- he doesn’t take his place for granted. Neither does he believe in destiny, though it played a role in his rise --- from Amroha to a first-division club in Kolkata, domestic cricket and finally a Test debut in his adopted home.
If his quick rise raised eyebrows, his long hiatus due to an injury also amused a few. Shami was about to be dismissed as one of those players who were at the right place at the right moment until he bounced back in style here.
The comeback wasn’t easy. Once in crutches after a painful operation on the left knee, Shami used the 18 months away from cricket to reduce weight and take as much load as possible on his legs to ensure that he didn’t have to endure another day away from cricket.
“When the operation happened, there was doubt in my mind, but when I went through rehab at the NCA for 7-8 months that doubt went out because we had done so much hard work and put load on the knee. So there was no worry about the load to come. It was just about confidence after that, and I was trying to continue from where I had left off before the injury,” said Shami ahead of the third Test here on Sunday.
Shami’s comeback has been nothing less than promising, extracting bounce and just the right amount of movement to keep the West Indies batsmen on the edge. He has the natural talent of hitting the right length that keeps batsmen on the back-foot.
His celebrations suggest Shami is back to enjoying his bowling, something India need him to do if they want good results. Shami’s bouncer though has been the talk of the series. To be able to get that carry despite not being tall speaks volumes about the practice he has put into his bowling. He has a clear idea of what to do.
“There are only two ways to test the batsmen --- either you can pitch it up or you can bowl short. So my plan is to make the batsmen uncomfortable, find that out and keep doing it. I was trying to read the batsmen’s weakness early,” said Shami, about his bowling this series that has given him eight wickets in two Tests.
“The effort is to work out as quickly as possible, what length the ball is getting more bounce, and at what length one which should bowl and make batsmen more uncomfortable. Wherever the batsman finds most discomfort, we work on that and short ball we used in terms of changes and we got benefit of that,” he said.
Shami looks leaner and fitter, something he has been working on for some time now. “My only focus was to reduce weight as much as possible and control my diet as much as possible because that would mean getting back to fitness would be easier. I have lost nearly 14-15 kg which went above because I was in bed for two months. So had to work hard to lose it all and the result you can see now,” said Shami.
“I told doctors and trainers to give me as much load as possible and try everything because I didn’t want any doubt going ahead into the season. After that I worked in the nets and whichever team was working out at NCA I joined them and did as many net sessions as possible and put in as much effort as possible. Then I returned after all this effort,” he said.
Right now, Shami is in the thick of action. He has the ability to bowl long spells and with a new fitness regimen, he is more than ready to bend his back. It has given him wickets but more importantly, it has given him the confidence to do well both with the new and old ball.
Being part of a five-member bowling attack means he also gets the desired rest between long spells. But he is also one who wouldn’t think too much about the pitch. With the ability to make the ball skid through, swing it with the seam up or make it bounce from an innocuous length, Shami has returned with a new hunger, something India could be well served if they utilise him intelligently.