Fairy-tale World Cup for Mohammed Shami
Kolkata, March 16: As a teenager he moved from the sleepy village of Sahaspur in Uttar Pradesh to a small clubs of Kolkata, marking up his first nervous steps to make it big as a fast bowler. Now leading the list of Indian wicket-takers - and second overall - in the ongoing World Cup, Mohammed Shami seems to be on a dream run, capping years of struggle.
After a horrid tri-series and Test matches against Australia and England, Indian pace spearhead Shami has witnessed a upswing in his fortunes. With 15 victims from the Pool matches, the Bengal cricketer is only one adrift of the most successful bowler - Mitchell Starc of Australia.
Shami, who completed 25 years on March 9, has impressed both fans and critics with his art of seam bowling and dispelled anxieties of the team management which was badly in search of a leader for the young and inexperienced bowling attack following Bhuvneshwar Kumar's indisposition.
Clocking the 140 kmph mark with ease, swinging the leather both ways, Shami has extracted steep bounce and bowled an impeccable line and length throughout the five games he has played for the Men-in-Blue so far.
India’s most trusted new ball and death bowler
Of India's half a dozen games, Shami missed out the clash against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to a knee injury - but in all other matches, he played a lethal role as the Indians each time bowled out the opposition.
The right-arm bowler finished with 4-35 in the lung-opener against arch-rivals Pakistan and carried the good form into the South Africa game, taking 2-30.
After injury forced him to sit out the next exchange, Shami was back with a bang against the West Indies, seeing the back of demolisher Chris Gayle, opener Dwayne Smith and the dangerous-looking Darren Sammy.
Against Ireland, too, he pocketed three wickets, giving away 41 runs.
Again, on Saturday against Zimbabwe, M.S. Dhoni's most trusted new ball and death bowler did not disappoint his skipper as he picked up the wickets of Chamu Chibhabha, Sikandar Raza and Tinashe Panyangara. Raza, who was middling the ball quite well, was clean bowled with a peach of a yorker that hit the base of middle stump.
Shami has maintained an overall economy rate of 4.376 and a phenomenal strike rate of 12.6 in the World Cup so far.
Akhtar, Akram and Dhoni acknowledged by Shami
For a man who made his one-day international debut against Pakistan in 2013, it has been a phenomenal performance.
But how did he metamorphose from the profligate, luckless bowler a few months back to an economic and lethal pacer?
He himself has credited three individuals, two of them former Pakistani speedsters.
While Shoaib Akhtar's advice helped Shami shorten his run up and increase his pace, Wasim Akram told him not to compromise on speed.
Ahead of the Zimbabwe game, Shami also acknowledged Dhoni's contribution.
"I am always free and I have never been tensed when he has captained the side. He is someone who has always told me about my mistakes and asked me not to repeat them in the future. He never gets angry."
But the beginnings were quite tough.
Having migrated to Kolkata, Shami had to sleep in the club tent or shared hotel rooms, making Rs.500 per match in his early playing career. Far away from his family, the youngster immersed himself in practice to forget his loneliness.
All that hard work and spartan living has now paid off.
(Debdoot Das can be contacted at email@example.com)