Shami Ahmed presents great promise for the future as he has pace and has a good attitude to back his talent. Irfan Pathan’s injury has allowed him to return to the Indian team for the tri-series in the West Indies. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes why he should be managed for the long run.
On a cold January morning in Delhi early this year, India and Pakistan faced off in what was a supposed ‘dead’ game. Having lost the three-match series 0-2 in the previous encounter and defending a modest total of 167, the hosts troubled the visitors and strangled them as they approached the mark. A young pacer — making his international debut — was unruffled by the enormity of the occasion. Showing remarkable poise, he held his nerve and delivered nine economical overs, picking up a crucial wicket at the climax as India sealed the deal to avoid a clean-sweep. Shami Ahmed’s impressive debut presented hope for a country that has yearned for good fast-bowlers.
As Umesh Yadav, R Vinay Kumar and Irfan Pathan returned to the Indian setup for the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, Shami couldn’t break into the team despite a decent if not spectacular performance in his five international outings. Nevertheless, he did no harm to his reputation and Pathan’s injury has reopened the door for him as the Indian team leaves for the tri-series in the Caribbean.
As it seems, India have a dynamic bowling attack for One-Day Internationals (ODIs).They have a genuine swing bowler in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who has made rapid strides since his debut. Yadav’s genuine pace is his biggest asset. Then you have an Ishant Sharma, the tall lanky seamer who is brisk and relies on seam movement, while Vinay Kumar’s strength lies in his nagging accuracy. Shami can fit into the scheme of things as he bowls fast and is economical at the same time.
Last year, Shami travelled with the India A side to the Caribbean and was one of the few positives to emerge from what was an otherwise forgettable tour. Lalchand Rajput, who was the coach of India A was impressed by Shami and told CricketCountry, “He is strong, bowls at a sharp pace, and throughout the day. Even in the third spell of the day, he bowls around 140 kmph. He is one bowler to watch out for.’’
WV Raman, who coached Bengal and has worked with Shami, said, “(Shami) Ahmed is an exciting bowler. His biggest strength is his attitude and never-say-die spirit and clocks around the 140 kmph mark at his best. My first impression was that here was an exciting talent because he was head and shoulders above many other young fast bowlers I had seen in recent times.”
It was that attitude and the never-say die spirit which was evident on his ODI debut against Pakistan. Playing against the arch-rivals is no easy task and the pressure intensifies when one makes their debut against them. Shami handled it very well and stuck to his strengths that day. That performance inspired confidence and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had no hesitation in turning to the debutant during the dying stages of the game.
A seamer who combines pace and accuracy is a rarity. However, Shami is one of the few (early in his career) who has shown the ability to bowl fast and stem the flow of runs. In his short career (domestic and international) so far, he has maintained a good economy rate in both the one-day formats. In List A cricket, he concedes runs at 4.78 runs an over. Whereas, in the shortest format, he has gone for 6.44. With that record, one feels he should have got more chances during the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the Kolkata Knight Riders. A good performance there could have strengthened his claims for a spot in the Indian team as the value of that platform is unmistakable.
Even when India have found pacy customers, they have been expensive and have struggled to maintain the flow of runs. Yadav is penetrative and can surprise the batsmen with the quick ones. However, they can also get the better of him as he may slightly err in line and length. Even Ishant has been guilty of conceding runs in a heap on a few occasions.
It is imperative that India back Shami and make the best of his talent. For a country that doesn’t produce too many genuine quicks, the likes of Shami and Yadav stand out and make their presence felt. In fact, Shami’s role becomes more important when one considers the fact that Varun Aaron has had injury problems. The Indian team management had invested in the Jharkhand quick with an eye on the future, but niggles have hampered his progress big time. It wasn’t the first time an Indian fast-bowling talent lost his way due to injury. The great thing is that Shami’s fitness levels are good. Raman had told CricketCountry, “Shami’s fitness is far superior to both Umesh and Varun.”
The question is: How would Shami get into an eleven that has won India the ICC Champions Trophy 2013? In the current scenario, he would have to bide his time and wait for the odd opportunity to impress. Nevertheless, India must keep him on their radar so that he doesn’t fall by the wayside. Since the end of the 2011 World Cup, India have used over 10 fast-bowlers during the rocky phase. Now that there are signs of stability in that department after the Champions Trophy victory, India have to build a pack with the 2015 World Cup in mind. Shami can be an asset and should be a part of those plans.