India vs Bangladesh: Mohammed Shami, fitter and menacing at home
Mohammed Shami is quickly becoming the bowler around whom the Indian pace attack will revolve at home in the near future. On wickets such as the one that the Holkar Stadium presented for the opening Test between India and Bangladesh pace had a say throughout the three days the Test lasted. Of the 26 wickets to fall, 19 were bagged by pacers. But before that, against South Africa in Visakhapatnam, Pune and Ranchi, where the wickets were a lot more typically Indian—a lot docile and quickly tipping the scales towards spinners—Shami led from the front, especially in the second innings, with the old ball and new.
In Virat Kohli’s scheme of things, till Jasprit Bumrah returns, Ishant Sharma would lead the attack with Shami where conditions suit swing. In conditions where the outfield is rougher and the ball would lose shine quickly, Shami and Umesh would be preferred for their ability to reverse.
CricViz data shows Shami averages 22 between overs 41-80. Since 2002 where ball-by-ball data is available, of the 79 seamers to have bowled 1000+ balls in the phase, only five average better than Shami. With 31 wickets in seven Tests this year, Shami is also the third-most successful bowler, after Australia’s Pat Cummins (43) and England’s Stuart Broad (34). The pink-ball Test at his home ground in Kolkata—in three Tests, he has 21 wickets averaging 17.52—could see him get to second.
Over the years, Shami has been able to put behind intermittent injury breakdowns by working on his physique. That, bowling coach Bharath Arun felt, has been vital to Shami’s consistency. He is the man who holds the key for India in the deciding second innings—four of his five fifers have come in the second essay—when the wicket generally does not assist pacers much. Shami would have ended up with a fifer here as well had Rohit Sharma not spilled a regulation catch of Mushfiqur Rahim at second slip.
Shami also has the best strike-rate and average in the second-innings among the three Indian pacers. In second innings, Shami gets a wicket for every 21.38 runs he concedes and every 40 balls he delivers.
“Shami always had the speed. He presents probably the best seam position in world cricket. It’s not fair to compare, but if you look at bowlers all around, Shami’s got probably the best seam position,” Arun said.
With the wicket not as fresh, an upright seam gets the ball to do more than most other pacers, and it generally surprises batsmen. The one that got Mohammad Mithun on Saturday was precisely due to a solid seam position. The ball rose a touch higher than what Mithun expected after pitching on the seam and hurried on, surprising him. Mithun by then had lined up a pull and could not withdraw from the shot. Mayank Agarwal, who was moved squarer at mid-wicket just before the delivery took a comfortable catch.
“Shami can now maintain speed. He’s spent a lot of work doing his fitness. There is a perfect balance now between fitness and the bowling he does and that has worked very well for Shami. That’s the secret behind his success,” Arun added.
Allegations of harassment by his wife had forced BCCI to put on hold his contract for a while last year. Shami focused on his fitness by working out during that period. India’s former conditioning coach Shankar Basu has said making a fitness freak out of Shami during that time was his biggest achievement.
Over the years, he said, he has cut down on food and avoids eating sweets and bread. It has helped get rid of a slight bulge in his waist he used to run in with during his early playing days for Bengal. The fitter Shami has not missed a Test this season due to injury and maintained his intensity.