Mohammed Shami’s is a curious case where a pacer was in the news for not playing. He carried a left knee injury to take 17 wickets in the World Cup last year before mysteriously vanishing from the scene. He had a successful surgery but there was another prolonged period of silence till Shami was included in the list of probables for a preparatory camp ahead of the South Africa series in September in 2015. He didn’t make the cut.
Next came the tour of Australia where he travelled with the team for a few days before being ruled out again due to a Grade 2 hamstring injury to his left leg. Shami hadn’t played a competitive match since the World Cup but still the team management named him in the squads for the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 earlier this year. He didn’t play a single match.
Almost 16 months after he played his last international game and also lost a fair bit in IPL remuneration, Shami showed why MS Dhoni insisted on him in the World Twenty20 squad. Virat Kohli too didn’t think twice to include him in the team and on Saturday, Shami vindicated his captain’s trust in him by running through the West Indies top order and set up a decisive lead for India.
For long, Shami had the reputation of a pacer who could be bowled any time of the day. He is as enterprising with the old ball as he is with the new one. Much to consternation of opponents, he varies his lengths regularly to keep batsmen in two minds whether they should go on the front foot or stay back. But the short ball, as seen on Saturday, makes Shami an even more threatening bowler. In fact, all his four wickets came off deliveries just back of the length that produced enough bounce to startle batsmen.
Shami’s exploits couldn’t have been possible without the pressure applied by the other bowlers. Out of the 90.2 overs bowled by India, 28 were maidens. And though most of those came because West Indies didn’t want to attack, it burdened them even more. India, on their part, didn’t take the situation for granted and kept pushing for breakthroughs. “We were not concerned about the runs. We didn’t look at our first innings score as 566 but as 350 runs because we wanted to get them out as early as possible. That way it makes things better for us in the second innings,” said Umesh Yadav after close of play.
“We decided all of this from beforehand as there wasn’t anything in the pitch for fast bowlers. The wind was also affecting our bowling, moving the ball a bit more and sometimes it was not reversing as well. On such wickets a lot of hard work is needed and you need to hold even half chances. So the plan was bowl in proper areas as much as we can and bowl maiden overs. And make the batsman play bad shots,” he said.
Shami turned out to be an expert in that on a wearing Antigua pitch that still has good bounce. He bowled 20 overs in three spells but the third, reading 7-2-14-3 changed the complexion of the game. Shami’s figures against each of the batsmen he dismissed also speaks of his complete domination. Opener Rajendra Chandrika didn’t score off the seven deliveries from Shami. Darren Bravo was out first ball. Marlon Samuels scored just one run off 16 balls while Jermaine Blackwood scored none off the four Shami bowled at him. That’s a staggering statistic.
His fitness, after the long turmoil he had to endure, too was assuring. “He is fit now and doesn’t need to be told where to bowl. Shami is a smart bowler and has in-swing, out-swing and a good bouncer. He is a complete bowler and I don’t think there is a need to even compliment him,” said Yadav.