Mohammed Shami 2.0 | All basics covered
'Hit the top of off-stump’.
A piece of quintessential advice generally offered to an aspiring fast bowler on his first day of cricket practice. No matter the conditions or the quality of the opposition, hitting timber is the first thing a coach’s manual teaches. From school cricket to the professional climes of international standards, following the basics generally determines the kind of bowler you end up becoming. As is the case with the current Indian pacer, Mohammed Shami.
The Indian cricket team is on an 11-series winning streak at home. This Virat Kohli-led side is climbing the ladder of perfection in all departments at a rampant rate. One doesn’t have to be a cricket buff to acknowledge the role of fast bowlers in these series wins at home, something which India had been missing in previous decades.
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A leaner and fitter Shami has, so far, passed the challenges in 2019 with flying colors. The Australia tour, 2019 IPL, 50-over World Cup, the tour of the Caribbean and the home Test series’ against South Africa and Bangladesh (ongoing) have showcased how the fast bowler has improved exponentially. Understanding the psyche and progress of Shami reveals his progress to becoming a thinking pacer trying to outwit the batsman at all stages.
In the recent 3-0 drubbing of South Africa at home, Shami took 13 wickets at an average of 14.76. How he claimed those wickets was a result of a perfect concoction of planning and accuracy. Wickets of South Africa captain Faf du Plessis and Bangladesh batsman Mushfiqur Rahim are two prime examples of the mind games won by the fast bowler.
Planning to perfection
The 2012 Test series against Australia gave an account of the defiance which Faf du Plessis is capable of. Knocks of 78 runs in 159 balls and 110* in 376 runs in the 2nd Test at Adelaide cemented his reputation as a Test specialist who was very selective with his shot selection. Seven years later, the South African captain came into the India series with the same kind of reputation but with the extra load of being the best batsman in the squad.
On the final day of the first Test, after dismissing Temba Bavuma with a ball that kept low, Faf du Plessis had the uphill task of keeping the on-fire Shami at bay. With Shami bowling in the mid-130s and swinging the ball away from the right-hander, Faf du Plessis left a ball on-line, expecting it to swing the other way. Shami made the 22-over old ball dance off the pitch and seam it late into the right-hander to demolish the off-stump and send it flying. The South African captain was seen staring at the wicket before making the long walk back to the pavillion.
Shami, with his tail-up against Bangladesh in the Indore Test, set up Mushfiqur Rahim in a similar fashion. He bowled from wide of the crease and brought one sharply into Mushfiqur Rahim after a series of out-swingers and hit the top of off-stump. It was the pace that beat the best Bangladesh batsman, but the nagging length at which the movement took place.
These two wickets reminded one how covering the basics of fast bowling even at the biggest of stages was as important for a bowler to grow and improve as learning and improvising. Wickets of two premier batsmen of the opposition are prime examples of his calibre with the old as well as the new ball. Such was the effect of the Indian pacer, that du Plessis praised Shami on his lethal run of form and thought that the South African bowlers could take a leaf out of the Indian pacer's book. He said:
"He's a guy that hits the stumps a lot. That's something from a bowling point of view, we have to make sure, we are better at."
Decoding Shami's recent success on StarSports, Laxman hailed Shami's control over the ball and said:
“Brilliant success to get Mushfiqur out, bowling two three deliveries away. Then using the crease to go wide of the crease and getting the ball to come in. Terrific planning and good to see him succeed in the plan than he set-up. He(Mushfiqur) batted well but he was very lucky. We saw the same with Shami in Vizag where he set-up Faf du Plessis. He does this consistently and does it really well. He has got great control over his bowling that is why he has been able to pull off the plans that he sets up."
In a question and answer session on Twitter, South African pacer Dale Steyn revealed that Shami was the best Indian bowler in the world considering his current form.
This much-needed transformation in the mindset and psychology of Indian pacers must be attributed to the Kohli- Ravi Shastri partnership. Realizing the importance of taking 20-wickets to win a Test match, Kohli's insistence on having a pool of fit and wicket-taking fast bowlers seems to have finally paid off. And Shami has been one of the shining gems in the captain’s armour. Seeing a pacer run into bowl has never been more of a delight for Indian fans and hopefully, we can see the trend grow, irrespective of the format.