If there was a clamour to play all three of its frontline seamers together, Mohammed Shami just gave India a happy headache during the first ODI against Australia in Mohali on Friday.
Down a rung in the pecking order behind a fully-fit Jasprit Bumrah and an ever-improving Mohammed Siraj, Shami has been competing for a spot in the playing XI as the third-choice pacer with Shardul Thakur. Thakur, though not as skilful with the ball as Shami, has often received the nod due to his willow-wielding abilities that could help the side down at number eight.
And yet, featuring in just his third game in as many months following a break after the World Test Championship final, Shami offered a masterful display of seam bowling as India continued to flip through its options before the World Cup. Helming the attack alongside Bumrah in the absence of Siraj, who was given a break after his six-fer in the Asia Cup final, Shami revelled across phases on a sultry afternoon.
On a flat deck at the venue where the average first-innings scores have shot north of 300 in the last five games, Shami’s craft shone the brightest to tug Australia (276 all out) below a winning total. He finished with career-best figures of 5 for 51 - the first ODI five-for by an India pacer at home since Zaheer Khan in 2007.
Shami, the most experienced bowler in the squad with 170 wickets, dispelled doubts over his unstable position in the eleven and backed the team management’s rotation policy. “It is important to understand the team’s needs. It isn’t possible that you’ll 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’re in the XI, but it is also crucial to be understanding when on the bench,” the 33-year-old told reporters after India’s five-wicket win.
“The idea from the management is to rotate players according to the conditions and the opposition. They know how to handle it and the recent results have been quite good. The rotation is smooth and I don’t think anyone should be burdened before the World Cup,” he added.
After dismissing an in-form Mitchell Marsh with a classic late outswinger on a good length in the first over, Shami continued to trouble David Warner with the late seam movement. He returned for a crucial second spell towards the halfway mark and castled Steve Smith with a booming inducker, landing sharply on the seam and jagging back to hit the stumps off an inside edge. The veteran also put the slower balls to effect at the death, using either end of the good length adeptly to bag his second ODI five-wicket haul. “It is satisfying when you find rhythm on a surface that does not have a lot in it for you. If you have noticed the Indian attack over the last few years, we always help each other out. If I take wickets, then Bumrah will be stopping runs at the other end. This kind of partnership bowling is very important,” Shami said.
Shami acknowledged that he was not short on rhythm despite his limited space on the field with the white ball since his return to the side. “I have always been in rhythm whenever I have come back to the side. That break (after the WTC final) was required as I had been playing continuously for seven to eight months. I needed a break and I discussed that with the captain and coach. But my rest is never technically rest. I actually end up bowling and preparing a lot more while I am home,” he remarked.
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