For someone who had to leave his home state Uttar Pradesh for Bengal to find a first-class career, Mohammed Shami showed very early he is no journeyman bowler. He could bowl the heavy ball, the one that doesn't appear fast but thuds into the bat, was the verdict of experts.
When he made his One-day debut in December, 2012 he was seen as someone with pace but who needed to polish his skills. Shami had made rapid improvement by the time he made his Test debut against West Indies in November. Just five Tests old, he is being regarded as the new strike bowler, one with most potential to lead the attack in the near future as Zaheer Khan is in the twilight of his career and Ishant Sharma's form swings from one end to the other.
While Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron can bowl at around 150 kph, fitness has let them down. That is where Shami's compact action, control and ability to move the ball at pace stands out. On his Test debut at the Eden Gardens, he flummoxed the Caribbean batsmen with swing, both traditional and reverse. And even on pitches that don't have much for seamers, he has looked impressive thanks to the pace he generates.
In the One-day series, Shami looked impressive in the beginning but lost consistency to go for runs. But he was back to his old self in the Eden Park Test, where he played a significant role in giving India a foothold in a game they seemed to have lost.
Shami was a threat in the Kiwi first innings but was let down by poor catching – Murali Vijay dropped centurion Kane Williamson on 32 – after a confident leg before appeal against opener Peter Fulton was turned down.
In the second innings, it was his strikes in his first two overs, removing both Fulton and the other opener Hamish Rutherford, which set the tone. His dismissal of Corey Anderson came off the best delivery in the innings – pitched at perfect length and nipping back to clip the leg bail.
In this Test, his calmness at the other end helped Ishant regain his rhythm to an extent to finish with six wickets in the first innings. And the Delhi bowler was on target, running through the tail after tea to finish with a nine-wicket match haul.
Zaheer Khan, the leader of the Test pace pack, admitted that the pacers erred in pitching it too short to let the Kiwis off the hook in the first innings, but were rewarded for sticking to a consistent line and length.
The 35-year-old endorsed Shami as the one who will win matches for India. "No doubt he's a match-winner, that is the way I look at him. His quality to take wickets in bunches is what separates him from a good bowler to a really, really good bowler. Shami has shown that quality in whatever little cricket he has played. With experience, he's going to get better."
Zaheer felt Ishant should become more consistent. "He has come a long way. It's important he picks up wickets. He has been around fór a while. He definitely has the potential to create an impact at this level and I'm happy he is among the wickets."