Mohammed Shami had played only 16 ODI games for the Indian team in the last four years, picking up 26 wickets at an average of 30.19 till the World Cup in England began.
After leading the charge for the Men in Blue in the 2015 edition, where he scalped 17 wickets in seven games, constant injuries and rising fitness concerns meant that he was sidelined.
From being the leading pacer Down Under to struggling to break into the ODI squad, Shami’s progress in the format was on a steady decline.
Playing on despite the accumulation of fluids in his knee in the 2015 World Cup, Shami had to endure a torrid year after their semi-final appearance. The knee injury that had flared up during the event ousted him for a year, and with Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya rising through the ranks in this interim, Shami’s entry back into ODI cricket was not going to be easy.
An indifferent form in the Indian Premier League – he averaged more than 48 from 2016 to 2018 – added to his woes, and he was on the verge of being termed a Test specialist.
However, a torrid 2018 that was defined by a domestic turmoil has helped Shami in scripting a remarkable turnaround.
After failing the yo-yo Test that saw him out of India’s Test against Afghanistan, the Bengal pacer got a hold of proceedings, and along with fitness trainer Shankar Basu, pledged to improve his lifestyle, which would inadvertently help his international career.
"He failing the fitness test was a blessing in disguise," Basu said recently of Shami.
“After that, he was a changed man. He was so determined and I think he is also blessed with some amazing gene. We all talk about intermittent fasting, and Shami does intermittent fasting inadvertently, he doesn’t even know what it is but he does it on his own. This is 2.0 version of Mohammed Shami.”Shankar Basu, Fitness Trainer
The Emergence of Shami 2.0
After a spectacular Test series in Australia, where the bowler scalped 16 wickets at an average of 26.18, Shami was included in the ODI team for the three-match series against Australia.
The absence of Bumrah, who was rested after the Tests and the inability of players like Shardul Thakur, Siddarth Kaul, Deepak Chahar and Khaleel Ahmed to stake a claim as the third pacer aided his selection.
It was also an opportunity for him to step up and get a step closer to being selected in the World Cup team – a dream that had seemed almost impossible a year ago.
Five wickets in Australia and nine more in the series against New Zealand that followed made him a force to reckon with. He looked penetrative and bowled with an aesthetically upright seam presentation that allowed him to get natural movement with the new ball. He angled the ball into the batters, getting it to nip off the surface and focused on outsmarting the rivals, instead of relying on them to make a mistake.
"It's a long process, you have to work hard and practice. You have to continue working till you get the result," he had said when asked about his seam position.
“I always try to keep the seam straight and get benefits off the pitch - it cuts or seams - so I try to do that. I like bowling with the new ball in the nets too. I practice my seam positions in the nets, you have to know which way the ball will go – whether it comes in or goes out – that’s very important.”Mohammed Shami
A remarkable IPL season, where he finished with 19 wickets at an average of 24.68 helped him book a place on the flight to England. In 13 ODIs since his comeback in the home series against West Indies last year, Shami has picked up 22 wickets till the start of the World Cup, bowling in the first powerplay and at the death with precision and accuracy.
However, he was not guaranteed a place in the 11 in England with Bhuvi touted to be the second pacer from India. However, a hamstring injury in the game against Pakistan opened up the gates for Shami, and in three games since his entry, he has justified his selection with 13 wickets.
A Rejuvenated Shami
Against Afghanistan, Shami kept dishing out his pacy deliveries and eventually ended with four wickets, which included a hat-trick. He pitched the ball right on the money consistently, and eventually got his reward when he got one to nip back into Hazratullah Zazai.
In the last over of the innings, with Afghanistan needing 16 and Mohammed Nabi smashing a four off the first ball, Shami pitched a ball near Nabi’s toes that was lofted back to Pandya. He came back to clean up Aftab Alam and Mujeeb Ur Rahman in consecutive deliveries and carried his form into the next game against West Indies as well.
On a track that hardly had any lateral movement, Shami set up Chris Gayle by cramping the left-hander for pace and bounce. With venomous bounce on offer, he proceeded to get Shai Hope with a beautiful delivery that nipped back in off the seam. Shimron Hetmyer was outdone by a wide delivery, while Oshane Thomas lost his to a sharp bouncer.
He started off strongly against England and was unlucky as he drew four edges from England’s batters by targeting their off-stump.
In his first three overs, CricViz states that 44 percent of his deliveries drew a false shot – only the third time that he has drawn as many false shots. The first instance was against Afghanistan.
Though he was expensive in the death overs, bowling length balls regularly, he managed to pick up his first ever five-wicket haul against England to continue his fine run.
When asked who Shami wants to credit for his resounding turnaround, the bowler, after the Windies game.
“I would like to give to myself because I am the one who was facing the biggest challenges. In the last one and a half to two years, whatever has happened, I am the one who has confronted and experienced that. Credit I will give myself.”Mohammed Shami
With renewed zeal and confidence, Shami has successfully managed to silence all critics, and it should not be a surprise if he keeps Bhuvi on the bench even when the latter has regained full fitness – something that was unimaginable a year ago.
(Sarah Waris is a postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words. She spends her hours gorging on food and blabbering nineteen to the dozen while awaiting the next Indian sporting triumph.)