Mohammed Shami 2.0, fast and strong, ready for a fresh plunge
In the uncomplicated world occupied by Mohammed Shami, life finds spectacular ways of sorting itself out on the rare occasion it finds itself in a tangle. Between the end of the 2015 World Cup (which he played) and the January of 2019 (the year of the World Cup he certainly wasn’t in the reckoning for) Shami had played a total of five ODI matches—the first three of those, not in a row, two-and-a-half years after the 2015 World Cup, and the next two after another gap of a year.
These were long gaps between games and they are never good for a cricketer’s motivation to make the odd chance count when they come along. For, such a cricketer is fully aware that he is only a fill-in—for that particular match or series—and will not be able to wholly replace the injured/resting player. Yet, when Shami got his ‘chance’ on the ODI leg of the tour of Australia early this year, only because Jasprit Bumrah was rested after a tiring Test series, he took it.
Three wickets in the Adelaide ODI and two in Melbourne put him on the plane to New Zealand, where in the opening game in Napier, he bowled through the defences of both openers, Martin Guptill and Colin Munro, during his Man-of-the-Match figures of 3/19 and the selectors now had to rethink their selectorial plans. Again Bumrah’s workload was managed on Australia’s tour of India just before IPL and again Shami was among the wickets; and then among India’s 15-member squad to the World Cup.
Even being in the squad, however, gave him no guarantees of featuring in a game in England. Not unless a pitch (or opposition, for that matter) really called for India playing three fast bowlers, and perhaps not even then given that the side also boasts of not one but two quality fast bowling all-rounders. So here Shami was, in the guise of a glorified net bowler, happy helping out in practice sessions.
Here too things untangled themselves for Shami. Against Pakistan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar tweaked his hamstring and this more or less ensured that on Saturday, Shami will be putting on display his glorious run-up at the Ageas Bowl, against Afghanistan. But Afghanistan perhaps doesn’t evoke great memories for Shami, because the last time he prepared to play against them in their country’s debut Test last year, Shami failed a fitness test and was dropped from the team; and this professional low coincided with his personal low—the very public spat between him and his now estranged wife.
“Him failing the fitness test was a blessing in disguise,” Shankar Basu, India’s strength and conditioning coach, said on Wednesday. “After that, he was a changed man. Shami was so determined to become fit, and I think he is also blessed with some amazing genes. We have done his fat testing over three years and the distribution of fat is exactly the same over the period. He really is a piece of work.”
Basu’s analysis of Shami is interesting as it is novel, for it is from the perspective of the man who has been credited with constructing the fittest team in the sport and a beacon for future generations of cricketers around the world. It is hard to imagine a man as laidback as Shami taking his diet and fitness as seriously as some of the others in the team do, and Basu agreed tangentially when he said: “All the talk today in fitness is about intermittent fasting. Mohammed Shami does it inadvertently. He doesn’t even know what intermittent fasting and its benefit is, but he has managed to do it perfectly on his own.”
Basu understands the modern-day sportsperson’s body second to none. Only a man with such keen understanding can speak of fitness analogically, equating the workload during IPL to Mt. Everest and that of the World Cup to Mt. Kilimanjaro. So, when such a man tells you that Shami is the fittest he has ever been, and just why he got there, you have to listen. “The best part is he has changed his entire training regimen; I think training is now part of his lifestyle, which never used to be the case before. “Everything has changed (for Shami) over the last three, four years. He was the last person to get on to this (fitness) bus, but after that little bit of personal setbacks and failing that fitness test, he is now a changed man,” said Basu, before adding, “This Mohammed Shami is version 2.0.” The same could be said about his second wind in ODI cricket too.