Testing phase for Shami

Testing phase for Shami

The Bengal bowler needs to adapt to conditions like his fellow Indian pacers

Testing phase for Shami

Wasim Akram looked distinctly displeased during a short break on the fourth evening of the Lord’s Test. The legendary fast bowler shook his head and muttered: “Usko ball thoda aur aage dalna chahiye (He has to pitch the ball further up).

Here Akram was mentioning Mohammad Shami, once his ward when the paceman played for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Soon, his annoyance transformed into delight as Shami dismissed Gary Ballance, a pitched up delivery taking the edge en route to Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps.

“He should bowl that length more often in England,” Akram beamed before resuming his commentary stint. Before getting into the details, let’s make it clear that Shami has not exactly been struggling, but has been overshadowed by two of his colleagues.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar has found the right length on English pitches, while Ishant Sharma has relied on a barrage of short-pitched deliveries to hog his share of limelight. Shami’s theory has been quite simple in fact – deny scoring opportunities for batsmen by bowling back of the length deliveries, and then exploit the frustration with a fuller delivery.

From the overall perspective, it hasn’t been a bad move as he has kept the pressure from his end but it has also fetched him only limited success – four wickets in four innings. To be fair to him, Shami has plucked two of his four wickets with back of the length deliveries – Matt Prior at Lord’s and Moeen Ali at Trent Bridge, though both the dismissals had also involved some indiscretion from the batsmen.

The method has brought success for him in the past, especially in his debut Test against the West Indies at the Eden Gardens last year. Shami then bowled mostly back of the length deliveries, and a hint of reverse made him all the more dangerous. Since then, he has used that length effectively in South Africa, where he hit the deck hard, and in New Zealand he used the conditions well with a fuller length to get wickets, particularly in Auckland.

Seam position

Dhoni had liked the approach of Shami. “He has wonderful seam position, helping him to reverse the ball away from right-handers. And he will be even more effective on pitches that offer good bounce because bounce adds to his ability to swing the ball.” But in England, that back of the length strategy hasn’t worked so far, and according to Akram he has not flicked the wrist often to get the desired amount of movement here.

When Ishant was wrecking havoc at Lord’s on the fifth day, Dhoni preferred either Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Ravindra Jadeja to operate from the other end. So why not Shami, who is much quicker than Bhuvneshwar?

“Ishant is someone who can bowl that length because he has both height and pace. Even Shami can bowl quickly but he doesn’t get a lot of bounce off wicket,” said Dhoni. Here, what Dhoni was telling – not in as many words – the need for Shami to adapt and bowl fuller in English conditions, just like Akram murmured.

This is also a testing phase in the career of Shami, who so far has played eight Tests for 31 wickets. India have lost a number of pacemen at this juncture of their careers. Remember the early 2000s when India witnessed an upsurge of a clutch of young fast bowlers, which promised a lot.

S Sreesanth, perhaps the most talented of them all, Munaf Patel, Rudra Pratap Singh, Irfan Pathan – the flow seemed relentless. But each one of them failed to maximize his potential to a variety of reasons – recklessness, wavering focus and fitness.

Now, we are seeing another wave of quick bowlers featuring Umesh Yadav, Ishwar Pandey and Varun Aaron, and without a modicum of doubt, Shami has offered the brightest beacon. He has pace, the much-cherished ability to move the ball, and now he has to ensure that he stays on the scene longer than some of his predecessors.

Adapting to various conditions is a big part in that task.

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