It is rare to see Mohammed Shami steaming in with long spells in the nets during India’s training sessions.
When he does, it also leaves the best of Indian batters in uncomfortable positions. In a chat show with Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, India captain Rohit Sharma termed Shami as the most difficult bowler to face in the nets.
“The pitches we have for net sessions are almost always green with moisture. Whenever he (Shami) sees green pitch, woh aur zyaada biryani khake aata hain (he comes in after eating more biriyani).”
He barely requires a warm-up run. Even on match days, he ambles around the practice strip, meekly jogs in and gently sends down snorters with the might of that right arm, and negligible assistance from the non-bowling arm.
The wrist position is a work of beauty and he uses the upright seam to good effect. His ODI numbers are unbelievably good and they go a notch above in ODI World Cups.
And yet, the 33-year-old was limited to a back-up seamer with an incoming Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj forging a fiery unit since late August. That Shami’s worth fell to how many runs he could offer with the bat compared to a seam-bowling all-rounder like Shardul Thakur is an exclusive Indian cricket storyline.
On Sunday, Shami returned to the playing XI for the first time since September 24 and nonchalantly went about his task in Dharamsala, claiming his third ODI five-wicket haul (5/54) and second in three games - the previous one came exactly a month ago.
Shami became the first Indian to pick up multiple five-wicket hauls in World Cups and waltzed past Anil Kumble to become India’s second-highest wicket-taker in the showpiece event. Shami’s strike rate (17.6) and average (15.02) are miles ahead of all illustrious bowlers who have racked up more than 30 wickets in the 13 editions of the tournament.
Teaming up with Bumrah and Siraj for the first time in an ODI, the trio controlled the game in phases even as the Kiwis threatened to motor past a 300-plus score on the back of a spellbinding ton from Daryl Mitchell (130) and Rachin Ravindra’s 75 in the middle-overs.
Three of his five wickets came in the death overs where he has been silently efficient over the years. At the outset, an attacking bowler like Shami may not possess as many varieties and the defensive nous in his artillery as Bumrah or Mitchell Starc. Shami knows one way: to go hard and full, and space out his searing yorkers.
He stands second on the all-time list among all India bowlers in the death overs with 71 wickets, only behind Zaheer Khan (88). An outstanding Bumrah is up there too, with 68 wickets in the phase.
Since his ODI debut in early 2013, no Indian has bagged more wickets than Shami, and only four bowlers - Starc, Trent Boult, Adil Rashid and Rashid Khan - have managed more wickets from a considerably greater number of games.
As natural as athletes come, the Amroha Express can readily take off from any halt. Having played the 2015 World Cup through injury and subsequently playing just five ODIs through the next three years, Shami returned with 42 wickets in another World Cup year in 2019 - the best haul for any Indian pacer since 2007.
Between 2020 and 2023, Shami only featured in just nine games before raising his game for another World Cup year.
But here is a chilled-out, simplistic man who does not take the matter to his heart. “It is important to understand the team’s needs. You can’t always be part of the playing XI and combinations. When we play regularly, someone will have to sit out. There is no point being frustrated about it. It is good if you are in the XI, but it is also crucial to be understanding when on the bench,” Shami had said after troubling Australia in Mohali.
With another peacefully eloquent display at India’s aesthetic cricketing shrine, Shami would hope that his name would not be the first to be struck when Hardik regains fitness and a meatier role awaits in the final stretches of the home World Cup.
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