The role of a spearhead suits him well

Mohammed Shami…a strike bowler in all formats of the game.-AP

Mohammed Shami has the heart to take punishment and then come back strongly with some wicket-taking deliveries. He probably has the best yorker among the current Indian fast bowlers, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Woorkeri Raman always spoke highly of Mohammed Shami. “Watch out for this fast bowler. He is sharp and he is very motivated.”

In good time, Shami was causing a flutter at the national level, putting some of the best batsmen in the business to discomfort. The Indian team was then in search of a fast bowler who would be an ideal foil to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Shami arrived on the scene at the right time, much to the delight of the Indian captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and the coach, Duncan Fletcher.

Shami does not boast of searing pace. “In modern cricket, what matters is skill more than speed. You have to constantly evolve and look to baffle the batsmen. You may not always get ideal conditions, and you have to look to create the circumstances to excel. Shami has the quality to make an impact,” said former India medium pace bowler Venkatesh Prasad, a brilliant line and length exponent, who revelled in reading the situation and making inroads in the opposition camp.

When he came into the scene, Shami was extending his desire to make it big in the sport. From Uttar Pradesh he moved to Bengal essentially to earn an opportunity to play at the national level. There was hardly any competitive league in his home State. Like many in the past, he would have had to play in Delhi for some club or the other. That was not an arrangement going to work in the long run for Shami. He opted for Kolkata instead, worked hard and managed to catch the attention of the State selectors.

For Shami, the road to the Indian team presented one of the competitive stages of his career. Munaf Patel and R. P. Singh had not lived up to their promise and the emphasis was on a stopgap arrangement. The advent of Shami meant there was support for Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar. Suddenly, the Indian new-ball attack assumed a striking force with Shami as its spearhead.

He has the heart to take punishment and then come back strongly with some wicket-taking deliveries. Shami probably has the best yorker among the current Indian fast bowlers.

“What matters in international cricket is the innovation that you can bring in,” says the former India fast bowler, Kapil Dev, who could adapt quickly to any condition.

As Manoj Prabhakar, a crafty customer with the new and old ball, explained, “Shami is a capable bowler. He has the heart to bowl in any condition. He may not be a complete bowler, but he is a bowler a captain would be happy to have. I like the energy that he brings in when he sees a challenge. A fast bowler should have the strength and fitness, but he should also have the ability to adapt. He is not predictable and that makes him a tough bowler to tackle.”

Shami celebrates with team-mates and skipper M. S. Dhoni (extreme right) after India's victory against the West Indies in the first Test at Eden Gardens in November 2013. Shami is a bowler any captain would love to have in his team.-PTI

Shami has accepted the role of a strike bowler in all formats, and it stems from his ambition to be the key bowler of India. Unlike Bhuvneshwar, he also has enough speed to hustle the batsmen in the slog overs.

Once during a net session with the Bengal team, Shami was asked to alter his run-up and the follow-through. He was quick to adjust and most importantly, he was consistent.

In the case of Bhuvneshwar, the Indian captain has to use his quota before the slog overs, but not with Shami, who is an ‘anytime, anywhere’ bowler.

Sometime ago, Wasim Akram had complimented Shami for his enthusiasm to be in the thick of action. Captains love a bowler who volunteers to bowl in tough situations. Shami is one who smiles and gets on with his job — just the kind of bowler a team would love to have in its ranks.

“He is one who wants to succeed,” was how Raman would describe Shami. It is not easy to succeed on placid pitches and unhelpful conditions. However, Shami has come to accept his responsibility and improve in the company of Bhuvneshwar and Ishant. True, Varun Aaron has shown a lot of promise, but it is Shami who has been the most consistent — an essential quality for a bowler to be acknowledged at the international level.

The coming assignments in Australia — a four-Test series, a ODI Tri-series involving England as the third team, followed by the ICC World Cup — should see Shami playing to his potential. He is a match-winner and the pitches in Australia should be the right launch pad for this diligent cricketer. The Indian team and the captain look forward to a major contribution from Shami as they hope to win their first ever series in Australia, not to forget the challenge of defending the World Cup.