Shami's probing spell offers plenty of hope for India
Pacer makes a statement at Kolkata
India have had quite a few impressive debut Test performances this year – Shikhar Dhawan’s blistering 187 against Australia in Mohali in March, Rohit Sharma’s in-the-trenches 177 on Friday against the West Indies in Kolkata and Mohammad Shami’s nine-wicket haul in the same match.
While there has been no dearth of batting talent in a country where the willow wielders have been a privileged lot, India haven’t been blessed with as many quality fast bowlers. In that context, Shami’s sensational arrival on to the scene has naturally raised fresh hopes with Zaheer Khan moving towards the end of his career than beginning, and Ishant Sharma still some distance away from leading the attack.
Shami isn’t a fast bowler in the conventional mode. Lean in build, he doesn’t give the impression of a mean quick but looks can be deceptive. He can consistently bowl upwards of 135 khph, even touching 145 on occasion, and his ability to procure swing, both conventional and reverse, makes him a dangerous customer. His Test debut ahead of Ishant and Umesh Yadav was unexpected but his performance (9/118) came as an even bigger surprise.
The 23-year-old had shown glimpses of his proficiency in the few ODIs he had played prior to the Eden debut, against Pakistan and more recently against Australia. Impressive as those performances were, they hardly gave a hint of what he had in store for the Windies. They came well prepared to tackle spin but ended up being easy meat to Shami’s reverse swing.
Swing he did, but so did others. The difference, however, was his length. Batting against a reverse-swinging ball isn’t an easy job but it’s not an impossible task either. R Ashwin summed up Shami’s control. “It’s all about getting used to playing the reverse-swing,” the off-spinner noted.
“When reverse swing came into play, nobody knew how to play it or what it was all about. Maybe it’s about watching out for the reverse swing and playing it late. I think that’s how reverse swing needs to be played.
But what happens with reverse swing is that once you get excited and bowl fuller, it becomes easier for the batsmen. What Shami did with Samuels and a few other batsmen was brilliant. He hit the deck and got to move it off the seam as well. He bowled brilliantly,” he analysed.
Shami’s length, West Indies skipper Darren Sammy acknowledged, was the key to his wicket-taking ways. “We (West Indies bowlers) got the ball to move, to reverse a little bit,” he pointed out when asked about Shami’s bowling.
“The difference between our bowlers and Shami was the length. He was bowling the ball into the pitch, bowling wicket-to-wicket. When he was reversing into the right-hander, he started on a good length, outside the off stump, hitting the stumps. Our bowlers were bowling it full, under the bat or short. We were not consistent in our line and length. He showed us how to do it. And that is the way it should be done,” he explained.
Though he was born in a family of fast bowlers – according to Shami, his father, uncle and older brother were all pacers – he had no access to organised cricket because there wasn’t any in the place where he was born and grew – Sahaspur.
Backed by his mother, Shami moved to Kolkata to give shape to his aspirations.
“There was no (organised) cricket there (Sahaspur). There was nothing. But they (my family) all backed me and I came to Kolkata. Then I played for Bengal, and here I am today,” Shami said.
Shami’s arrival, just a few weeks ahead of the South Africa tour, couldn’t come at a better time. “I think we are forming a potent attack, with the South Africa tour coming up,” felt Ashwin.
“More than talent and ability, I think taking wickets is important going into any series. He’s got a lovely five-wicket haul here (second innings in Kolkata). I hope he carries on and forms a potent attack with some of our senior bowlers,” he hoped.
However, before we anoint the Bengal paceman as the next Javagal Srinath or Zaheer, we have to see how many pacers before Shami have failed to build on their promise -- RP Singh, S Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, VRV Singh, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan ... the list is long.
For now, he is a surprise package for many but as he plays more and takes wickets, he will be studied, analysed and may get sorted out also. That’s when his true test will come.