After entertaining Eden Gardens with a sparkling 98, all the applause at the Eden Gardens was directed at Rohit Sharma on Thursday. That was until Mohammed Shami took the ball from MS Dhoni in the third over of the West Indies innings, in their World Twenty20 warm-up game. He did not disappoint as he dismissed the dangerous Chris Gayle as India won their first warm-up match by 45 runs in Kolkata on Thursday.
It was the first time Shami was being seen in India’s blue jersey since March 26 last year. And the 25,000 crowd ensured the home boy felt in the zone at the ground where he had made a sensational Test debut three years ago.
Shami injured his knee just before last year’s World Cup but still played in the tournament, where India lost in the semi-final. Since that defeat against Australia, few knew the exact curve of Shami’s recovery. He had a successful knee surgery, but then a hamstring injury delayed his comeback to the extent that it was thought that Shami may find it difficult to regain his place in the team.
What he had though was the complete backing of the team management. Everyone from Dhoni to team director Ravi Shastri had defended Shami’s inclusion in the World T20 squad, even after he was withdrawn for the recent Asia Cup. Dhoni’s logic was simple --- very few had the variations Shami possesses, both at the opening and closing stages of the innings. On Thursday, Shami showed a glimpse of his full potential in four overs, bowled in two-over spells.
With Chris Gayle at the other end, West Indies got off to an explosive start by milking R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh for 26 runs in the first two overs. But Shami’s introduction slowed the tempo in no time.
He looked understandably rusty in his first delivery, just short of good length that Johnson Charles couldn’t pull well. But otherwise he stuck to a line just outside off-stump. He tended to bowl short at times but apart from Gayle, no one was able to get the better of him.
In the next over, Shami cranked up his pace and bowled straighter. He also got a bit of swing in the second delivery that jagged into Charles, who could only get an inside edge. Next delivery, Shami kept it full and outside off-stump. Charles had given himself room but only managed to get an edge to Dhoni.
By the time Shami returned to bowl his third over, West Indies were in disarray, having lost eight wickets. He ran in full steam and mixed up his deliveries so well they were too good for the tail-enders. Another wicket in his final over, in the form of Ashley Nurse, was just the boost Shami would have needed.
That a lot was riding on Shami’s form in this warm-up game was evident in the way Suresh Raina ran up to pat him on the back after he was done with his spell. Two wickets in four overs conceding 30 runs isn’t bad in a T20 game, certainly not for a pacer returning to international cricket after a year.