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Mohammed Shami’s performance has been inspiring despite having nobody to look up to

Mohammed Shami © Getty Images
Despite being in his early stages of his career, Mohammed Shami has held the load of India’s pace attack leading from the front © Getty Images

Mohammed Shami has relished the challenge of spearheading the Indian attack, this at a time when most bowlers learn the ropes on the big stage, writes Karthik Parimal.

 

 

Seldom do the Indian bowlers instil a sense of belief or hope, regardless of the format they play. What qualifies as a winning total for most top teams tends to be a challenge for India. The statement may appear harsh peripherally, but unearth a few scorecards from the recent past and the quality of the opposition’s batting, and it filters down as an undisputable fact.

Despite this glaring crisis, 23-year-old Mohammed Shami stands out amongst the rubble. During what is generally perceived to be a bowler’s formative years, he rarely refrains from shouldering responsibility and willingly dons the cloak of a strike bowler. It’s safe to say that without his exemplary work ethic, India’s bowling, and the current potential of the team in general, would have been in a deeper hole.

The circumstance under which Shami has entered the fray is quite unfortunate. It was believed at a certain juncture that Ishant Sharma would spearhead the attack, although one should have expected little when he meted out a statement along the following lines last year: “I don’t think I am the senior fast bowler in the team because everyone is of a similar age, though I have played more matches and I have played with other boys as well.” It’s no surprise that Ishant’s now relegated to the fringes. Had he shown an ounce of self-belief at the time, Shami would have someone to look up to within the team, which could then have perhaps given him time to acknowledge the nuances of his craft.

A bowling coach, or other former stalwarts who have the team’s best interests at heart, can only guide a rookie to an extent. It helps to have a fellow team-mate who tags along, on the field and in the confines of the dressing-room, to chip in with a timely tip or advice. That’s how a bowler’s growth is usually mapped out. Sadly, the upcoming Indian pacers cannot bask in that luxury; at least not in the near future by the looks of it.

Shami has hogged a slice of limelight with his ability to swing the ball, notably away from the batsman, and constant barrage of full-length deliveries hurled effectively, better than most Indian bowlers, during the death overs of the shorter formats. His pace, hovering over the 140 kph mark early on in his spell, is also a trait that distinguishes him from the rest. He can generate movement off the seam, too. While the aforesaid points line up as positives, his tendency to experiment more than required is what offsets his performance at times.

But how does a bowler react then, when he sends down a plethora of overs for minimal returns? Shami does manage to seal an end, but his partners often loosen the noose. As former India player Aakash Chopra aptly notes, “It’s just the workload that’s pulling him [Shami] down. Ever since he made his Test debut in November, he has played 17 international matches (Tests and ODIs combined) and bowled over 1,900 balls. In the same period Mitchell Johnson has bowled 1,451 balls, Junaid Khan bowled 1,433 and Tim Southee only 1,395 balls. Becoming the spearhead of Indian fast bowling has come at a hefty price, for he’s been asked to bowl maximum number of overs amongst pacers in his first season at the highest level.” The patience to stick to a plan, understandably, wears thin.

Almost every Indian fast bowler had at least one regular seamer in the squad to look up to upon arrival. Javagal Srinath learnt a few tricks of the trade from Kapil Dev, whereas Zaheer Khan became Srinath’s protégé at the turn of the millennium. Ishant had the opportunity to study Zaheer’s methods. The plan, however, went awry. Shami was roped into the side as part of the inevitable “permutation and combination process” in the bowling department employed by the Indian selectors. Nevertheless, even in the absence of a solid guide, Shami has etched respectable figures. In fact, if you compare Zaheer’s early years under Srinath with that of Shami’s, it becomes evident that the latter is on par.

First fourteen months of the two bowlers in Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs) combined:

Played

Innings

Wickets

Average

Five-wickets

Zaheer Khan

36

46

65

33.67

1

Mohammed Shami

33

39

75

28.60

1

It’s important to reiterate the fact that Shami has exceeded expectations under what is clearly a testing phase for Indian cricket, this with little support, perhaps because he’s left with no choice. If India can manage to unearth one more bowler with heart, or blood one from the current set to bowl out of his skin, within the next few months, then it will hold the side in good stead, especially considering the enormity of the tournaments ahead.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)

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