Mohammed Shami, the second innings master

Indian Mohammed Shami leaves the ground in happiness after bagging a match-winning five-wicket haul against South Africa in the first Test in Visakhapatnam. PTI

Normally fast bowlers relish a fresh first-day pitch. Some grass accompanied by pace and bounce would be just what the doctor ordered for them. Mohammed Shami though is extremely different. The wily, skiddy right-arm seamer enjoys running in on a worn-out day four-five pitch with a slightly old ball rather than a brand new cherry on the opening morning.

In 43 first-innings, the 29-year-old has bagged 78 wickets at an average of 34.47 with just one five-wicket haul. But in 40 second-innings acts, Shami has taken 80 wickets at an astounding average of 22.58 with a best of 6/56 and four five-wicket hauls.

Even in the opening Test against South Africa here at the Dr YSR ACA-VDA Stadium, Shami was pedestrian in the first innings. On a flat pitch with not much help for pacers, he struggled to get into his stride as South Africa dealt with him quite easily. He then showed his ‘second’ nature on a steaming Sunday to lay the foundation for a thumping Indian win.

With the conventional swing, reverse swing, in-swing and out-swing, he caused havoc on South Africa, whose batsmen just couldn’t understand what was coming at them. He bowled just 10.5 overs but every ball tested the South Africans, who thought R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja would torment them on the fifth day rather than a pacer. In the end, he walked away with a 5/35 haul.

Rohit Sharma paid tribute to Shami’s skills of excelling in unwelcoming conditions. “We have seen him in these conditions not just today but earlier also. I still remember our debut together in Kolkata where the pitch was not exactly like this but on day four and five it was slightly lower and slower. He knows how to bowl on that pitches, gets reverse swing straight into play once he knows there is some help on offer,” said Rohit at the post-match press conference.

“It is not easy to bowl when reverse is happening. You need to pitch in the right area, need to make sure the ball is just around the off stump and it comes and hits the middle stumps. He has mastered that art now, bowling with the old ball and getting it to reverse. These types of conditions are pretty ideal for him. He makes them play all the balls and it is tough for the batsmen on those particular pitches where the ball is misbehaving, doing something from the crack and at times staying low. Batsmen don’t know which way it will reverse swing. He has mastered how to bowl with the old ball.”

At home, times when ace spinners Ashwin or Jadeja failed to strike, Shami has more often than not stepped up to deliver the killer blow. He may not elicit the same awe as fellow pacer Jasprit Bumrah, who has captured the imagination of the world with his exemplary skills, but Shami thrives in conditions many pacers struggle to tread upon. He can be scratchy at times but there’s no denying the bite Shami lends to this Indian bowling attack, especially on the last two days of the matches when the team is pushing for a win.

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