It was Saturday, July 30. The second Test of the India-West Indies series was on in Kingston. During the hosts’ first innings at the famed Sabina Park, Roston Chase lost his wicket to Indian seamer Mohammed Shami when Shikhar Dhawan pouched a low catch at first slip. However, the emphasis here is not on Dhawan’s diving efforts in the cordon. The case in point is to highlight Shami, whose capacity as a thinking bowler has been garnering attention in the world of cricket.
Chase was set up by Shami beautifully. The bowler bowled a tight fifth stump line urging the 24-year-old to go for the drive. Chase had edged twice but on the last ball of the over Shami’s efforts reaped rewards. He got the important wicket.
Shami has played only 13 Tests and has 55 wickets to his name but has been a regular performer for India. Be it in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England or the West Indies, Shami has taken wickets with ease. An 18-month lay-off owing to injury kept him away from the game but his comeback in this series is an indication of how important a link he is to Indian bowling.
“He keeps the pressure up on the batsman with his tight line,” explains former India Test player Madan Lal. “This way a partnership builds up between bowlers and they get wickets. Shami is playing the lead role in building that partnership and both, Ishant (Sharma) and Umesh (Yadav) are benefitting.”
When Shami bowls, his process looks simple. Unlike Ishant and Umesh, who seem to be putting in a lot of effort, Shami keeps to his strengths. When he bowls with the new ball, the emphasis is on making the ball move in the air. As the ball gets slightly old, the emphasis shifts on hitting the perfect spot - the fourth-fifth stump line. The batsman is forced into playing the drive and Shami and steadily casts his spell. The line becomes more accurate and the length is pulled back slightly. With a perfect wrist actionand a delightful seam position, he extracts lateral movement as well.
I am happy for @MdShami11 He bowled an aggressive spell yesterday, probably best I've seen. Not easy when returning from injury: Kumble— BCCI (@BCCI) August 3, 2016
At Antigua in the first Test, Marlon Samuels edged one back to Wriddhiman Saha. Shami had set Samuels up perfectly and the batsman went to chase the wide delivery. A similar delivery had dismissed Kane Williamson at Wellington during the second Test against India back in 2014. Williamson, on 47, edged the delivery to second slip. Shami probed outside off, Williamson poked at a length delivery which straightened after pitching.
After Ajinkya Rahane scored his century at Sabina Park, the batsman said that he keeps his process right. Shami might not be as articulate as Rahane but one could make out a similar approach. Shami has a process for every session, each spell and the condition of the ball.
“Shami’s basics are too good. He has a perfect spot and knows how to take wickets. He uses the bouncer intelligently and sets up a batsman beautifully. At the international level a bowler needs to know how to pick wickets and he has done that with perfection,” Lal adds.
Old ball wonder
Let’s move on to the old ball now. When the swing reduces and the soft ball does less laterally, Shami bends his back and produces a steep bounce. He could generate pace and hitting the deck means that the ball deviates a notch to trouble the batsman.
In Australia and New Zealand, most of his wickets came on slightly short-pitched deliveries. It is assumed that the Aussies, the Kiwis and the Proteas are good at negotiating bounce but they were vulnerable as well. During India’s Australia tour earlier this year, Shami got Shaun Marsh on a delivery that surprised the Aussie with steep bounce in Sydney. Shane Watson, Joe Burns and Ryan Harris all went home failing to control Shami’s short ball.
Similarly, in the West Indies, he has a process for the left-handers as well. Southpaw Darren Bravo has lost his wicket twice to Shami in two Tests. Shami comes around the wicket and digs in hard to see the Dukes ball do its bit from the track. At Antigua, the short ball left Bravo with the angle and he failed to fend-off a similar ball at Sabina Park.
It might be too early to compare Shami with a bowler such as Kapil Dev, who also relied heavily on movement and setting up the best in the business. Dev used his bouncer sparingly and possessed acumen in picking wickets. Though, Dev never had injuries in his Test career, Shami has already been troubled by a knee injury.
Though, the West Indies batting line-up produced a match-saving effort to draw the second Test, Shami needs to be credited for his simple and effective approach. In his absence, Ishant and Umesh looked ineffective, but with Shami, they seem to be getting back on track.