Cricket World Cup 2019: From hell and back, Mohammed Shami marks World Cup opportunity with hat-trick
Shami grabbed his chance as strongly as he could (AFP Photo)

SOUTHAMPTON: And to think, a year ago, Mohammed Shami was one of the last names you could have tipped to win India a World Cup match. Twelve months ago, Shami was a Test bowler on the comeback from injury, and yet to get a chance in ODIs. It had been over a year since he had bowled with a white ball for India.

It took an injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar to get Shami his first game of the World Cup. He grabbed the chance as strongly as he could, ending with 4/40 from 9.5 overs to help deny Afghanistan a famous win.

Thirty-two years since India’s last World Cup hat-trick, taken by Chetan Sharma in 1987, Shami dismissed Mohammad Nabi, Aftab Alam and Mujeeb ur Rahman to clinch an 11-run win over Afghanistan at The Rose Bowl on Saturday. He had 16 runs to defend, and conceded four off the first ball. Nabi turned down a single off the second ball, then found long-on off the third. Aftab and Rahman stood no chance thereon, their stumps uprooted by Shami.

Fast, lean and fit Shami.

His new-ball partner and fellow death-overs star Jasprit Bumrah was named Man of the Match in India’s 11-run win over a spirited Afghanistan, and rightfully so. But to understand the significance of Shami’s hat-trick, we must rewind the clock.

(ALSO READ: Mohammed Shami hat-trick helps India stave off spirited Afghanistan)

In 2015, Shami took 17 wickets at 17.9 apiece to help India reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Since his last match at the SCG, where India were defeated in the semi-finals by eventual winners Australia, Shami did not play an ODI for 22 months. He came back to the squad in mid-2017, played three matches and did not earn a recall until a year later, after his success in the England Tests.

In that time, Shami bowled with the white ball in seven List A matches.

Between his two World Cup appearances, Shami underwent surgeries, lost his central contact and was embroiled in an ugly domestic case with his wife. That ugly episode effected him so much that he feared leaving the team hotel during the IPL this year. He wanted to be left alone. He was scared.

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Shami’s resurgence after a year in which he played 12 consecutive Test matches and overcame personal problems – which took a toll on him mentally – put him in contention for longer playing time in ODIs. With Bumrah rested for the Australia and New Zealand ODIs earlier in 2019, Shami grabbed his chance with both hands and claimed 14 wickets from seven ODIs at an average of 20.64 and economy rate of 4.92. This shoved aside the left-armer Khaleel Ahmed and earned Shami a World Cup spot.

But Shami’s success was not merely about the number of wickets. It was about how he delivered in the roles handed to him, upfront and at the death. When Hardik Pandya was injured, Shami stepped up as the third pace bowler. When Bumrah was rested, he bowled brilliantly with the new ball and old in Australia and New Zealand. During the three ODIs in Australia, Khaleel and Mohammad Siraj were inconsistent and thus Kohli was forced to turn to Shami during the middle overs. He delivered in each game, and then channeled those performances into the 4-1 ODI win in New Zealand.

Mohammed Shami India World Cup squad 2019
Mohammed Shami’s success in ODIs this year has been vital to India’s success. © AFP

In the first ODI, which India lost, Shami’s ten overs cost 46 runs. He bowled spells of four overs and two overs thrice, clear signs that Kohli was testing him out to see if he could last the tour.

In the second ODI, Shami opened the attack with Bhuvneshwar and claimed 3/58 in his ten overs, bowled across three spells: 1/17 in four, 0/9 in two, 1/17 in two, 0/13 in one and 1/2 in one. A different role, but one that got him three wickets.

In the deciding third ODI, Shami’s 2/47 in 9.4 overs saw him bowl three spells: 0/14 in five, 2/16 in two, 0/8 in one and lastly 1/9 in ten balls. A job well done, in his first run of three consecutive ODIs since the 2015 World Cup.

(ALSO READ: Bumrah can do damage at any stage of the innings: Kohli)

Now sample the first match in Napier, where Shami bowled his quota in two spells. Owing to New Zealand’s poor batting effort, Shami was tossed the ball for his second spell in just the 28th over. In the next match, his second burst came in the 26th over. For the third ODI, Shami was broken down into short bursts of four, two and three. This kind of adaptability won Shami the management’s faith, and thus a prized World Cup ticket amid the Australia series at home later.

Shami bowled well in the IPL, but didn’t have the wickets to show for. Critically, he lasted the tournament. He went to England fit and hungry. He sat out India’s first four games, and got his opportunity on Saturday. The versatility displayed in Australia and New Zealand was what Kohli called on against Afghanistan. Want wickets? Go to Shami.

The Southampton track was sluggish. In the first half of the match, Afghanistan’s spinners accounted for five Indian wickets. The first time in this World Cup that India had lost a wicket to the slow stuff. Where the mind envisioned the wrist-spinning pair of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, and Kedar Jadhav’s whippish round-arm variety to trouble Afghanistan, it was pace that won India the match.

Mohammed Shami claimed 4/40, including a hat-trick, to beat Afghanistan. © AFP

Shami finished with 4/40, Bumrah with figures of 10-1-39-2. Pandya took 2/51 in his ten. That is one ball shy of 30 overs of pace, for eight wickets. Bumrah’s double-wicket 39th over had pulled the game back for India, and at the death he conceded 13 runs off two overs. Kohli knew his two strike bowlers would he required, and thus removed Shami and Bumrah after four overs when Afghanistan’s chase began.

Shami and Bumrah delivered, and how.

In his first spell of 4-1-6-1 he had Hazratullah weaving like a snake to his flute. It was mesmeric fast bowling. Seam upright, a bit of wobble, the odd short ball. Zazai survived an lbw review, but then perished trying to break free, bowled all ends up.

Shami returned to bowl the 37th over, conceded three runs. The next two overs brought Afghanistan 16 runs. Shami was bowling fast, but luckless. Najibullah Zadran thumped him over extra cover for four. Shami turned around, kicked the dirt. Zadran flicked superbly for four more, Shami looked at the ground. Then a catch fell just short of midwicket and Shami threw his head back, smiled wryly.

Kohli held him back for the death. One over, a break and then two. Shami had 16 to defend off the last over and won it with a hat-trick. Such days are rare in an Indian fast bowler’s career. For Shami, it must have been surreal. A year ago, not even he could have probably envisioned this.