Mohammed Shami shuts 'sixth-bowling option' talk with Lucknow masterclass against England in World Cup 2023
Shami's return shows India have little to worry about a sixth-bowling option, and that in turn sends out a big warning sign to oppositions.
When videos of Virat Kohli and Shubman Gill rolling their arms at the Lucknow net session two days before the match against England emerged on social media, discussions on India's pre-World Cup fears began to brew. Until the Bangladesh game a week back in Pune and amid the rising dominance from the host nation, the fear had subsided, and almost vanished into the oblivion, only to return with Hardik Pandya's ankle injury. With no confirmation over his return, and India still to play six matches then, fear over the balance of the playing XI began to grow. How do you replace a fast-bowling all-rounder of the stature of Hardik? Do you get an extra batter or a bowler?
The primary reason behind India's concern was the lack of extra bowling options in the line-up. Contrary to the triumphant 2011 World Cup-winning squad or the 2000s era, where the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina used to roll their arms often, providing captains that cushion to rest their specialist bowlers an extra over and rotate them with ease, the incumbent team has none from the top-order that bowls. And this very reason makes Hardik the most crucial player in the Indian squad, even ahead of captain Rohit Sharma or the legendary Virat Kohli.
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The issue was indeed addressed when the World Cup squad was announced in August, but with Hardik's fulfilling his bowling role almost like a third seamer throughout Asia Cup and in the opening four games of the World Cup, the problem was all in the distant past. But the ankle injury, which could reportedly see him miss almost all the remaining league games, sparked the old fear. Talks about the need for a sixth-bowling option, one of the top-order batters like Kohli bowling an over or two, and the possible playing XI for the remaining games began to take shape.
Hence, all eyes were on Rohit making the team announcement at the toss in the game against New Zealand on October 22 and against defending champions England on Sunday. And India went in with one strategy. With Hardik missing out, the team needed an able batter at No.6 and hence Suryakumar Yadav was the solution. India also needed an impactful third seamer and Shardul Thakur had to make way for Mohammed Shami, who had all this while warming the bench. And it was the latter that proved to be the masterstroke, shutting all talks around the need for 'sixth-bowling' option.
In the match against New Zealand, in Dharamsala last week, Shami played a pivotal role in inflicting a collapse from 243 for 4 to 273 all-out with a second career five-wicket haul in World Cup appearances. With his 5 for 54, Shami became the only ever Indian bowler in the history of World Cup to pick up two fifers and have five instances of four-plus wicket hauls as well. With the strategy having fetched India their first-ever win against New Zealand in a World Cup meeting since 2003, Rohit stuck to the line-up and it was Shami again on Sunday, on a two-paced Lucknow track, who combined sensationally with Jasprit Bumrah to script a demolition act against England.
With India setting a modest total of 229 for eight after being put to bat first for the first time in this World Cup, the onus was on the new-ball attack to inflict that early damage. And although it was Bumrah to opened the floodgates with two consecutive dismissals in his third over, it was Shami who ripped the heart out of England with a bowling masterclass.
Shami picked up 2 for just 4 in three overs in the powerplay which included the incredible set-up of Ben Stokes, leaving the England batter losing his wicket in utter frustration at getting beaten in five straight balls in that over. He later returned in the 24th over for his second spell and dismissed Moeen Ali in the very first ball by drawing him into a drive which led to an outside edge with KL Rahul completing the dismissal before gate-crashing Adil Rashid's defence, leaving India with a wicket to win and Bumrah obliged.
If a combination of two spinners and three specialist pacers can restrict sides to well less than 300, which includes defending 229 and winning by a 100-run margin, India have little to worry about a sixth-bowling option, and that in turn sends out a big warning sign to oppositions as well for the remainder of the World Cup tournament. And it seems Gautam Gambhir seconds that.
Speaking to Star Sports at the end of India's emphatic win in Lucknow, he said: “Today was probably the toughest because India were defending that score against a very strong batting line-up which bats very deep as well. England made a good start. They go to about 30 for no loss, but with India winning from there by 100 runs was an unbelievable effort. That was one of the best performance I have seen from Shami. I think Rohit just mentioned that India have got probably the best bowling line-up - you have two quality spinners and three quality pacers. Yes you don't have a sixth bowling option but if these guys continue to bowl like that, you don't need another option. And that happens when you have a very strong bowling line-up. They would be put under pressure at times, today was one, but they responded really well. With Shami coming back, Indian line-up has looked even more stronger. That is what we want, to take that pressure off the batting line-up.”
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