Mohammed Shami: Unsung hero of India’s solid year
Mohammed Shami took 47 wickets in 12 successive Tests last year. © AFP

It was probably some time back in 2009. That was my last year in first-class cricket for Bengal . I was playing club cricket.

During one of the CAB two-day league matches, Mohun Bagan was playing Town Club on one of the Kolkata Maidan grounds (I don’t remember the name).

I was facing this skinny 20-year-old fellow with a smooth run-up and first thing I realised was that the ball hit the bat faster than any youngster at that point in time. The seam was upright and he could swing the ball both ways and it impressed me a great deal and I enquired from our junior boys about who the guy was.

I was told that he was Mohammed Shami, who has come from Uttar Pradesh and has made quite an impression. The next I heard, he was taking truckloads of wickets for Bengal Under-23s, got fast-tracked into the Bengal senior team and within three years was playing for India. (VIDEO: Shami swaps role, Dhawan shrugs off lean phase)

For Shami, everything was happening at the speed of knots even before he could comprehend that his life has changed like never before. He was the new pace sensation.

Mohammad Shami © PTI
After a strong start to his India career, Shami hit a few roadblocks. © PTI

The next five years saw Shami giving some great performances but injuries hampered his consistency before personal issues took precedence during the first part of 2018. It seemed that life had come to a full circle before he took charge of his life and what we saw a Shami in a new avatar during the last six months.

It was approximately a year ago when I bumped into him. We had a long chat when he was going through serious problems in his personal life. However, to pick up the pieces in his personal life and put up a lion-hearted effort in England and Australia speaks volumes of his mental fortitude.Shami 2.0 is as big a revelation as Jasprit Bumrah even though the he might have slipped a bit under the radar. Yet he has done his job admirably and that’s what matters. (ALSO READ: I like Test cricket more than other formats: Shami)

Shami’s talent was unquestionable but in Kolkata circles, there would always be this shadow of doubt about his work ethic and that was quite frustrating too. That’s a very common feeling with most gifted players when you see the potential not matching up to the performances. Looking at him, you would keep telling him and wish he’d work harder stay focussed . Maybe he felt he didn’t need to until it caught up with him. After a glorious few initial years in international cricket, things started going a little downhill. Injuries, the IPL snub, being dropped from the national side and even from the contracted list of players. It was as if everything that could have gone wrong went wrong at the same time.

But looking at him now, I feel so proud. Shami has turned things around and that is credit to him. In fact when I think about it, maybe he needed a shock to wake him up from his slumber. One of the major complaints against him was that he was laid back, but I believe these reverses in his career and life in general has awakened the fighter in him.

The major change I see in Shami is his fitness level. He’s been found guilty of blowing hot and cold way too often early in his career. He was like a box of chocolate, in that you’d never know what you’d get. I certainly believed it was due to his fitness levels or lack of it, that he couldn’t sustain his level of intensity in every spell he bowled. Before 2018, he had two five-wicket hauls and last year itself picked up two more. (ALSO READ: Shami credits Kohli, team management for keeping faith)

Mohammed Shami crossed 100 ODI wickets on a three-wicket day.
In the last ODI, Shami became the fastest Indian to 100 wickets. © AFP

The other good indicator of his fitness is the fact that Shami hasn’t missed a single Test match. After playing 12 successive Tests, he’s running in the same way for the ODIs. A year ago, this looked impossible.

I reiterate, Shami’s ability was never in question, his hunger was.

Kudos to him for turning it around but I don’t think it would have been possible without the faith and trust Virat Kohli, the team management and the selectors have shown in him

I remember meeting him during a Test match against Sri Lanka in 2017 in Nagpur. He was rested and it seemed to me that he wasn’t too happy. But looking back, it all made sense. The team management had kept him wrapped in cotton wool for 2018 and how right were they.

The easiest thing would be to get frustrated and cut the umbilical cord, specially when it seemed there were options. It’s pay back time for Shami and he’s doing it in style.

It seems he finally has cracked the code and that would only mean more headache for the team management. Not that they would complain. With this kind of form and the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup in England, the management has to decide between three frontline seamers in Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami or the wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Either way its a good enough reason for Virat to have sleepless nights.