ndia’s year-long dominance in Test cricket away from home has been attributed to the ability to pick up 20 wickets in any condition. And the credit has largely been bestowed on the ‘freakish’ Jaspreet Bumrah, whom many consider the ultimate match-winner for the Men in Blue. However, this astounding success story wouldn’t have been possible had the other bowlers not had a telling effect on the opposition. They have been the unsung heroes and among them Mohammed Shami’s contribution has been huge to say the least.
Fast bowlers, like spinners also hunt in pairs. Fred Trueman had a Biran Statham, Dennis Lillie had a Jeff Thomson while Wasim Akram had Waqar Younis to fall back on during his bad days. The same has been the case of Bumrah. Without Shami, he probably wouldn’t have been half as effective as he is at present.
In the just-concluded Centurion Test which India won, Shami became the fifth Indian fast bowler to take 200 wickets or more when he dismissed Kagiso Rabada in the first innings. He joined an elite list headed by Kapil Dev (434 Test wickets) and followed by Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma (both 311 wickets each) and Javagal Sreenath (236). For someone who made his Test debut in 2013 against the West Indies at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, the burly fast bowler has come a long way. Today he is called the ‘Sultan of Swing’ – an epitaph that had earlier been bestowed on the legends like Lillee, Waqar and Wasim and Zaheer. No doubt, he has earned it the hard way.
Today, India skipper Virat Kohli cannot think of a playing XI without Shami in the mix. He was all praise for the fast bowler after the match. “Very, very happy for him (Shami) to get 200 wickets and have an impactful performance,” Kohli said of Shami. “For me he is absolutely world-class talent. He’s among the best three seamers in the world at the moment. His strong wrist, his seam position and his ability to hit a length consistently has made him a fearful proposition to all batsmen,” Kohli added.
What is important to note is Shami’s consistency. In the last 20 Test innings he has bowled, Shami has gone wicket-less on only four occasions. It just goes to show his ability as a strike bowler. You cannot win a game without taking wickets and Shami has consistently done that for Team India. And it is not that his success has been away from home only where conditions favour pacers. In his debut Test only, he picked up nine wickets against the West Indies to be adjudged the man of the match.
Credit should be given to Shami for the way he has battled all odds. In 2018 there was the incident of his estranged of his estranged wife Hasina Jahan who alleged him of torture, having extra-marital affairs and even being involved in match-fixing. It ended up with Shami being repeatedly interrogated by the police and also being trolled viciously on various social media platforms on a regular basis. For some time even the BCCI sidelined him. However, Shami’s teammates stood solidly by him and he returned to don the national colours with elan.
Amid all this while what did Shami do? He constructed a cricket pitch at his native place in Amroha district of Uttar Pradesh and immersed himself into rigorous training. He knew cricket was the only way out from all controversies and so he concentrated whole-heartedly in the game. He came back with a vengeance – fitter, stronger and better than ever before. And with it he scripted many memorable victories against formidable opposition.
Even in the recent past, when India lost the T20 World Cup game against Pakistan this year, Shami was viciously trolled by people who picked on him because of his religion. Again teammates and formers came to the defence of Shami and slammed back the trollers who had questioned his integrity. Shami returned the faith by giving another match-winning performance against South Africa.
Two of his Bengal teammates – one a former and the other a minister now in the Mamata Banerjee government vouch for Shami’s talent. “His ability to hit the deck and keep the seam straight is absolutely sensational,” said ex-minister Laxmi Ratan Shukla. “From the first day he came into the Bengal under-23 nets, we knew he was special,” Shukla added.
Manoj Tiwary also has the same opinion. “It is very difficult to understand which way the ball will swing or cut off the pitch because of Shami’s ability to keep the seam straight. So batsmen at times have to play the guessing game and more often than not perish. Also Shami has the ability to bowl long spell, he can be the workhorse as well as the strike bowler. These qualities make him very special indeed,” Tiwary stated.
Tiwary also was quick to point out that Shami should not forget the contribution of another person in his success story. “One should not forget the contribution of Akram in Shami’s development. As the mentor of KKR, Wasim bhai used to spend hours with Shami in the nets. He fine-tuned Shami, taught him the intricacies of seam and swing bowling. Shami is reaping rewards for what Wasim bhai taught him,” Tiwary said.
Yes, for the blossoming of a cricketer, efforts are needed from various quarters. Family members, coaches, dieticians, trainers, mentors – all have a role to play. Ultimately however, it is the player who has to deliver the goods in the arena of pressure.
Shami has done just that.
T-55 B-9999 W-203 BBI-6/56 BBM-9/118 5W/I-6
ODI-79 B-4044 W-148 BBI-5/69 SR-27.3 4W/I-9
T20I-17 B-357 W18 BBI-3/15 SR-19.8 3W/I-3