On the fourth and last day of the 2nd Test of the series against New Zealand at Eden Gardens, as Mohammed Shami finished a stunning spell and walked away to the pavilion for a short break, everybody in the stadium rose from their seats and gave him a half-minute-long standing ovation.
He had just picked up the wickets of Mitchell Santner and BJ Watling with two reverse swinging deliveries that had given the batsmen no chance and made it a realistic possibility of India wrapping up the match inside four days.
Had the 25,000 strong crowd known the details of what the India speed merchant had been going through for the last couple of days, the ovation would probably have lasted well into the night.
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Shami’s 14-month old daughter had been hospitalised and was in the Intensive Care Unit on the last two days of the Test. After the end of each match day, he would leave the stadium and rush to the city hospital to be with his daughter. On the following morning, he would be back fielding at third man, or steaming in to bowl, as the situation demanded.
Despite the testing circumstances, Shami bowled the highest number of overs in the 1st innings (18) among all Indian bowlers, and followed it up with another 18.1 overs in the second. In a Test innings in India, it is a very rare occasion that a pace bowler bowls more overs than all the spinners.
But this is what Shami has always done. As a teenager, he spent his nights in a cramped room with other migrants to the city of Kolkata, all of them with dreams of making a livelihood in an adopted city, but when the sun rose and matchday came around, he would inevitably singe batsmen and send stumps cartwheeling for miles.
When BJ Watling’s off stump went for a walk in the evening session on Day 4 at Eden, the stadium erupted like never before in the match. Shami stretched his arms in pure joy, making a motion as if he was flying, as fielders converged around him. A moment in time had been achieved that was isolated from the rest of the match, from the rest of the day, from everything else.
It is moments of brilliance such as this around which narratives of entire days and matches are built. The ball seemed to be coming into Watling’s middle stump for the longest time, before swerving to the left at the very last moment, going past Watling’s unsuspecting bat to crash onto the top of off stump, sending it wheeling for more than a couple of rotations.
The latest chapter in the incredible tale that is Shami’s life
While the second day’s play was going on at the Eden, Shami’s daughter Aira, who was born last year, was found to have high fever and trouble breathing. As the situation worsened, she was rushed to a city hospital and put into intensive care.
When the day ended at the Eden, Shami was told about the situation. He rushed to the hospital, only to return to the team hotel to be with the rest of the players late at night. The next day, a similar routine was followed.
On Day 4, with only a few balls remaining in the day and one wicket still to fall, the whole of India might have been egging Shami on to wrap things up on the day, but for different reasons. As for the bowler himself, though, his main motivation must have been to devote all of his time to his family if he could indeed get the last wicket. And as the script would have it, Trent Boult’s 21-ball vigil was brought to an end with the first ball of Shami’s 19th over.
However, as he celebrated with the rest of the team, mentally prepared to make his daily visit to the hospital, he received news that his daughter had been discharged from the hospital and was recovering at home.
TV commentator Sanjay Manjrekar said during the match, “We are delighted to have watched Shami for his excellent bowling in spite of the fact that he was going through hard times due to his daughter’s illness."
Shami later said that his adversity had been made much easier because of the support of his captain at the team hotel every night on his return from the hospital, and because of how his other teammates also rallied behind him.
Speaking after the match, Kohli said with a smile, “Shami fed off the energy of the Eden crowd and bowled 12 more balls for the team. We would have been waking up at 6:30 again had it not happened.”
Taking 6 wickets in a match while making daily visits to the hospital and tackling the stress of having an ailing infant daughter – just another chapter in the incredible career and life of Mohammed Shami.
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