They often say that cricket and cinema are the two biggest passions of India. Sunday was a good day to test that theory.
Indian fans, at least on the day, were in the mood for some good old revenge. They had after all waited for a whole year for the Indian team to avenge the 10-wicket thrashing at the hands of England in the 2022 T20 World Cup semi-final.
They were in the words of a cinephile burning within with Badle Ki Aag, (the 1982 movie starring Dharmendra). That fire raged even brighter by the fact that it had been nearly twenty years since India had beaten England in any ODI World Cup. Both in 2011 and 2019, Indian sides of the time were found wanting for a variety of reasons.
To better this record they needed a Himmatwala, like the 1983 top grosser, also incidentally the first time India beat England in an ODI World Cup. That was the 1983 World Cup semi-final when India turned the tables on England and made the final.
India found that man once again in Mohammed Shami who simply ran through England’s batting line-up like a knife through butter.
India surely has such an embarrassment of riches that Shami has featured in just 13 ODI World Cup games since he played his first in the 2015 tournament, then in the 2019 edition he was picked but only selectively. Even after being utilised sparingly, Shami made his presence known in the 2019 World Cup as he even picked a hat-trick against Afghanistan. He even picked a five-wicket haul against England in what turned out to be one of the two losses for India in 2019. Shami was utilised for the battles, but left out for the War back in 2019 (top grosser of the year) as he sat out the semi-final heartbreak.
In the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup, Shami was almost forgotten at times. The team management knew just how to use his services it seems. India played a total of 66 ODIs since the end of the 2019 World Cup, but Shami featured in just 27 of them.
The previous team think-tank, consisting of Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli, also used him sparingly in bilateral contests. The current management including Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma also used his services smartly, keeping him fresh for bigger battles.
At the time when such decisions are taken, they sound bizarre, but when you look at the bigger picture it does seem to have worked out in the end.
Back in 2019 when Shami was picked for the mega event, he was the third-choice seamer behind Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. He played the tournament then only when Kumar was given a break.
This time around the focus was on trying to fit in a bowler who can bat at number eight. The team management and selectors decided to pick Shardul Thakur. The squad already had a seam bowling all-rounder in Hardik Pandya. So, Pandya effectively became the third seamer in the playing XI.
With the emergence of Mohammed Siraj as a powerful new ball bowler, it was clear that he would start with Bumrah. India kept wondering if the dream combination of Bumrah, Shami and Siraj will ever be seen together in a playing XI.
With Thakur and Pandya providing effective back up support to Bumrah and Co it did seem that Shami would not come into fray till an unfortunate injury broke the back of the side. Little did everyone imagine that injury did come in an unfortunate way and the man being replaced was Pandya.
Now Pandya is a two-in-one player who bats at number six and then bowls his ten overs quite effectively. He has been in good form with both.
So, when Pandya was forced out, India was effectively down to fourteen men. Thakur had not bowled his full quota of overs in the tournament and it was therefore clear that the captain lacked confidence in him.
At that stage then it became clear till Pandya recovers fully, it would be a five-specialist bowler theory that India would employ. This made it even more clear that Shami would come in as the third seamer ahead of Thakur. The batting had been strengthened by default with the inclusion of Suryakumar Yadav. It is the bowling that needed support. So Shami who was warming the bench till then was drafted in for the Dharamsala game.
Shami struck gold in his very first game on return to ODI World Cup action as he picked a wicket with his very first ball. He ended with a five-wicket haul.
That was not the interesting bit.
The interesting bit that emerged was the fact that the team think-tank was aware that they potentially have four number XIs in their line-up after Ravindra Jadeja sent Shami in at number eight. Right through the debate has been that Ravichandran Ashwin, Thakur and Axar Patel are in the XI to fill in the number eight slot.
With Shami being sent in at that number it was clear that he has a role to fill with the bat too. You could vey well have dismissed that as a one-off.
But when it happened again on Sunday against England, then it was clear that this is the strategy till Pandya returns from his rehab.
At half-time it did seem like India had an under-par score. It was clear that Bumrah and Shami would have to strike gold for India to stand a chance to further browbeat a downcast England.
Bumrah started off brilliantly as ever. But it was Shami who provided the icing on the cake. His spell to set up Ben Stokes is probably one of the best in World Cup history ever. He kept frustrating the talismanic all-rounder. Stokes just did not know what to do.
As England did with Virat Kohli, India played with the ego of Stokes. That usually does the trick because such genius players do not take being tied down kindly. So was the case with Stokes as he finally gave up and tried to hoick to break the shackles created by Shami. This was a fantastic phase which really told you that Shami was at the top of his powers.
Jonny Bairstow's dismissal that followed simply told you that lady luck was finally smiling on Shami. Two more scalps and Shami now has nine from just two games he has played. It is staggering that someone like Shami is now just third behind two former champion bowlers Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan on the highest wicket-taker list for India in ODI World Cups.
Shami’s magical spell ensured that Bees Saal Baad India finally beat England in an ODI World Cup.
On Sunday India played much like what the 2003 side did when they beat England in Durban. Then it was Ashish Nehra who bowled as if Kal Ho Naa Ho, the hit movie of the time and this time it was Shami.
The player of the match back in 2003 was Nehra as he bowled braving pain, but this time around the skipper Sharma walked away with the honours. But Shami has done his part with the ball and that is what matters the most. Now it will take a brave man to keep Shami out of the playing XI. You can only envy Dravid and Sharma for being in that position.
England will probably be grieving for the rest of the fortnight as their World Cup defence now lies in tatters. They ended India’s Hukumat (the top movie of the year) as the defending champion in 1987 when Graham Gooch swept them out of the tournament in the semi-final. India was the top ODI side at the time as well, much like what England was right now before this edition.
The joy of the Indian side rejoicing together after every fall of wicket was a sight to behold on Sunday. The entire country is now rallying behind the side to say Hum Saath Saath Hain, the top grosser of 1999, also the time when India had dumped England out of the World Cup in their own backyard.
The tournament is still not done at this stage but the vibes are very much of a much better return than the ones India had in the past decade at ICC men’s events.
The theory we set out to prove right at the start is almost certainly a recognised fact by now as Indians all over the world feel Jawan after yet another rip-roaring performance.