Hardik Pandya would have felt distraught, angry, and even helpless, when he injured his ankle after bowling just three deliveries in the match against Bangladesh. The all-rounder had done a fine job for the Indian team in the 2023 ICC World Cup until then.
He had picked up five wickets in just three games and was doing the job of the fifth bowler efficiently. India's top-order was in such good form that they hardly needed Pandya's batting services. But his mere presence in the XI added a lot of confidence to India's batting and bowling units.
Having Pandya in the team is like having two players in the body of one. But such was the extent of his injury that he couldn't participate in the tournament anymore. It was his loss that he couldn't go all the way with his team. It was India's loss that they had to deal with the absence of such a crucial player heading into the business end of the tournament.
But, as the old saying goes, "One man's loss is another man's gain."
Pandya’s Loss Was Shami’s Gain
Pandya's injury paved the way for the inclusion of Mohammed Shami in the XI. It was surprising to see that such an experienced bowler wasn't a first-choice player for the Indian team management. They were playing Shardul Thakur ahead of him to create batting depth, but they were compromising on bowling quality at the same time.
Pandya's absence forced them to unleash Shami, who has bowled like a beast ever since. He has decimated batting lineups like he is the ultimate annihilator. Six games is all it took him to rise up to the top of the wicket-taking charts in this World Cup. He has 23 wickets to his name now. Among bowlers who have bowled a minimum of 10 overs in this World Cup, Shami's average of 9.13 and strike rate of 10.91 are the best.
India were already a dangerous bowling unit before Shami's entry into the XI, but his addition took the attack to a whole new level. Shami has bowled with so much fire, passion, and aggression that he has made the fans forget that this Indian team has an ace pacer like Jasprit Bumrah already in the lineup.
The Unrelenting, Wicket-Gobbling Monster
Shami was adjudged the Player of the Match in his very first game of this World Cup. He registered excellent figures of 5/54 to restrict New Zealand to 273, which India successfully chased down with four wickets remaining. It was a stellar performance by Shami, but his performances kept attaining whole new levels with every passing game.
He has been relentless and unstoppable, giving the impression of a wicket-gobbling monster that nobody has seen before.
Shami has bowled 50% of his overs in this World Cup in the first 15 overs of this innings, claiming 11 wickets at a superb average and strike-rate of 7.90 and 11.45 respectively. He has also maintained a mean economy rate of 4.14 and a dot ball percentage of 73 in this phase, which says a lot about his control and precision over the new ball.
His statistics outside the powerplay have also been pretty impressive. His remaining 12 wickets have come at an excellent average and strike rate of 10.25 and 10.41 respectively. This shows that he hasn't only been successful as a new ball bowler, but he has been equally effective in all other phases of the innings.
On top of everything, three five-wicket hauls and one four-wicket haul in just six games also sum up the kind of heat he has generated with his bowling in this tournament. And that includes his unforgettable 7/57 in the semi-finals against New Zealand.
Shami Finally Got What He Deserved
In a match that saw over 750 runs being scored, Shami went at less than six runs per over and also picked up seven wickets. It was the perfect revenge act by Shami, as India had dropped him from the semi-final against the same team during the 2019 World Cup. Shami showed India what they had missed four years back.
Shami's coach Badruddin Siddique had expressed shock and disappointment after his pupil's exclusion from the XI in 2019.
"Stunned. How can you drop someone after he has picked 14 wickets for you in four games? What more do you expect out of your fast bowlers?" Siddique was quoted as saying by IANS back then. But the coach must be very happy to see his pupil showing his class and delivering on his promise on such a grand occasion finally.
Destiny doesn't give everyone a second chance. But here it was letting Shami have another fair shot at what he deserved while also giving the Indian team another opportunity to correct their mistake.
Shami has 54 wickets to his name in the history of ODI World Cups now, the highest by an Indian bowler and also sixth highest in the list of all-time wicket-takers in the mega event. And he has taken only 17 matches to get there.
His figures of 7/57 in the semi-final against the Kiwis also broke Gary Gilmour's long-standing record of 48 years for the best figures (6/14) in ODI World Cup knockouts.
Eclipsing the Greatness of Bumrah & Siraj
Shami's greatest achievement in this tournament has been making his presence felt, that too in a grand manner, in a bowling attack that has two other quality pacers like Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj.
Bumrah, for example, has picked up 18 wickets in this World Cup at an average of 18.33 and a superb economy rate of 3.98. These are great numbers, but Shami has gone above and beyond to establish himself as the most lethal bowler in this three-pronged pace attack.
When the tournament started, nobody thought that he could emerge as the best bowler by the time this tournament would conclude. He wasn't even a first-choice player for India. He didn't even play all 10 league stage matches like other first-choice players.
But Shami didn't complain and made the most of what he got. What he has done so far for this team and their fans is legendary, and now it's up to him to deliver a fitting end on November 19.