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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

ICC World Cup 2019: Once substitute now a star, Shami credits self for revival

Shami is often animated and forever genuine and only he can effortlessly explain his state-of-mind or even break down his technique with clarity.

cricket Updated: Jun 29, 2019 08:06 IST
Aditya Iyer (Chief Cricket Writer)
Aditya Iyer (Chief Cricket Writer)
Hindustan Times, Manchester
India's Mohammed Shami celebrates the wicket of West Indies' Shimron Hetmyer.
India's Mohammed Shami celebrates the wicket of West Indies' Shimron Hetmyer.(AFP)

Because he is bashful about speaking in any language but Hindi—and perhaps due to it—Mohammed Shami is quite easily the most eloquent player in this Indian dressing room when it comes to speaking to the media.

Shami is often animated and forever genuine and only he can effortlessly explain his state-of-mind or even break down his technique with clarity.

So, after Shami took four wickets against the West Indies (which took his tally to eight World Cup wickets in two games) and found himself standing in Old Trafford’s mixed zone and facing a clutch of cameras held by non-Indians, all of whom wanting to know what caused the turnaround, he stood there mum and shrugging. Until the same question was posed to him in Hindi and then Shami came alive in his tongue of comfort.

Also Read: ‘Nakal karna hi sabse badi chaploosi hai’ - Cottrell on Shami’s salute celebration

“You know what the big strength of this Indian team is? It is that if someone is not doing well and going through a bad phase, they still stick with him if they have seen his talent and take him along,” said Shami.

“That kind of confidence the team showed in me helped, and then it feels really good if you can perform and show them they weren’t wrong.”

To sum up his past struggles: Shami’s personal problems spilled into his professional space in 2017 when he failed a fitness test and was dropped from the Test team; this when he was out of the ODI side since the previous World Cup.

A day before the West Indies game, India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun was asked about what the think-tank told Shami when he was down to help him recover and Arun said: “It was a pretty long conversation. I can’t really bring that to the table here. But, yes, the head coach, me, all of us had to sit down and speak to him and kind of draw a future map for him.”

41 balls, 7 wickets and 16 runs

Even Arun perhaps wouldn’t have envisaged that that map would lead to a road where he plays a starring role at the 2019 World Cup.

Also Read: ICC World Cup 2019 semi-final qualification scenario

After missing the first four matches due to a fit Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami helped India put an abrupt end to an upset-hungry Afghanistan and crush West Indies. But here’s a better way to look at what Shami has really done: his last 41 balls in international cricket has accounted for 7 wickets for the cost of 16 runs. That’s right, and say it aloud if you will: 41 balls, 16 runs, 7 wickets.

One of those balls, bowled to West Indies’ Shai Hope on Thursday, is likely to go down as one of the great wickets of this tournament.

In the fourth over of his opening spell, Shami hit a good length and an outside off-stump line which Hope, blessed with style and technique, punched on the rise through point for four. Next ball, Shami stuck to the same length but changed his line to well outside of off inviting Hope to drive once again. But the key here was Shami’s seam position, for the ball cut in like a rash Delhi driver swerving in from one extreme lane to the next and clipped the bails. This led to not only a manic celebration but also a great many questions in the mixed zone later.

“Could you tell us about your seam position for the Hope wicket?” he was asked and in Hindi, of course, Shami replied: “I always try to keep the seam straight and get benefits off the pitch—whether it is cutting or whether it is seaming—so I try to do that.”

But this didn’t satisfy his listeners so he explained his process too. “I like bowling with the new ball in the nets. And there I practise my seam positions so that I will know which way the ball will go, whether it comes in or goes out,” he said. “And that helps in the match.”

Also Read: Kohli and Co touchdown in Birmingham ahead of blockbuster England clash

But did he know just how much it was going to seam in before he bowled the Hope delivery? “Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” said Shami, causing a wash of laughter. “It’s difficult to talk about specific deliveries. But we were noticing that the ball was cutting, seaming and the bounce wasn’t proper. So, yes, I knew what I was doing.”

An easy cue to know if a sportsperson has had an exceedingly good day in the office is if the press asks if he or she would like to credit someone for their success. In Shami’s case, he was also given options of who he would like to credit for his turnaround—maybe a coach, a mentor, a supportive family member even? He first chuckled to himself, and then he spoke like few have in cricket. Across languages.

“I would like to give myself that credit because I am the one who was faced with the biggest challenges,” Shami said.

“In the last one-and-a-half to two years, whatever has happened, I am the one who has experienced, confronted and come out of that. So, the credit? That I will give myself only.”

First Published: Jun 28, 2019 23:31 IST

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