Shami makes a strong statement

Shami makes a strong statement

Mohammad Shami

Jasprit Bumrah may have been the man of the match in India’s nervy 11-run win over a plucky Afghanistan in their World Cup match here on Saturday, but it was Mohammad Shami who was the man of the moment, having sealed the minnows’ fate with a final-over hat-trick.

After sitting out India’s first three completed matches, Shami admitted he was frustrated with not getting a match, but he did a great job of masking it. If anything, he channelled all that pent-up anger in the right direction. At the end of the match, the smile was back on Shami’s face. He was joking, laughing and appeared at peace with himself after a good day’s work.

Last year around the same time, the world around Mohammad Shami was collapsing. An ugly marital discord that was fought publicly was followed by the suspension of his central contract by the BCCI. Accused of domestic violence and unsubstantiated claims of match-fixing, he went through an emotional upheaval.

Following a lull, his contract was restored by the BCCI but failing the Yo Yo test ahead of Afghanistan’s debut Test in Bengaluru last June, was another blow to his career which has been marred by several injuries since his debut in 2013. It was perhaps the last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Shami told himself enough was enough and set about on a road to redemption. India team’s strength conditioning coach Shanker Basu had praised Shami’s work ethic and that the right-arm quick failing the fitness test acted as a spur for Shami 2.0. A leaner, meaner, fitter and faster Shami has remained injury-free for the last one year or so, an achievement in itself considering the grueling India schedule and the Indian Premier League.

“This journey has been of two years,” said Shami about his improved fitness. “I was a little heavy after the injury and I could feel the heaviness, I would get some tightness also. I had a surgery on my knee as well. Only thing was that if you wanted to play for long, if you wanted to stay in cricket, you had to do something extra. I had to cut something – everyone laughs when I say it, but I follow my diet. I don’t diet strictly but the things that the doctors say I should not take, I generally don’t eat that. So, it is a benefit for me that I don’t eat sweets, I don’t eat breads. That has been beneficial to me in following my diet.”

He was one of India’s architects of their historic Test series win in Australia and has been one of their top performers with the ball in ODIs. Since October 2018, Shami has taken 26 wickets in 14 ODIs at an economy rate of 5.34 which is better than his career rate of 5.45.

The two-spinner strategy and the English conditions that largely favour Bhuvneshwar Kumar had combined to deny Shami a place in the 11 so far. While making the cut through an injury to a team-mate isn’t the happiest way to get a chance, it’s also important to make that opportunity count.

For long, teams have followed the policy of horses for courses, and there is no need to feel slighted. Four years ago, in Australia, it was totally a different tale altogether with Bhuvneshwar getting the lone Test to play while playing a second fiddle to Shami who was considered a better bowler on the bouncy, fast pitches as opposed to seaming and swinging pitches in England.

“As far as getting a chance is concerned, that depends on your luck,” Shami said, striking a philosophical note. “I was waiting that if I get a chance, I will show my skills. Yes, there’s a lot of mental pressure because you have done well everywhere and every time you have got to play, and despite that if you don’t get to play, you do feel a bit frustrated. But you have to stay cool and calm, you have to work on your skills and wait for your chance. And when you get that chance, just do the normal things that you have been doing, no need to go overboard and lose your way,” he offered, after his 4/40 effort, including only the second hat-trick by an Indian in World Cup.

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