Before the start of this series, a lot was expected of Mohammed Shami. When India landed at Heathrow about a month back, Ishant Sharma was still seen as an unpredictable trier, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s lack of pace was a concern, while Pankaj Singh and Ishwar Pandey were rookies who would be handy at nets on this long tour.
Shami stood out for his freshness, fitness and by virtue of being the fastest. How you had looked forward to watch the 140 kph plus young Indian pacer on a green track that looks greener on a heavy English morning.
At the end of the first two Tests, where Shami happens to be the lowest wicket-taker and thus least bowled Indian pacer, it is too tempting to suggest that, maybe, the first-time tourist to England got carried away by the favourable conditions. While Sharma and Bhuvneshwar have bowled 85 and 78 overs, respectively, Shami’s tally is 59.
In a series dominated by pacers — spinners have got just 11 off the 66 wickets to fall — Shami, with four wickets, happens to be seventh on the overall list that has Sharma (11) and Bhuvneshwar (10) at the top.
Shami made his debut on his home ground, the Eden Gardens, a venue not many fast bowlers call their favourite. He bowled fast and with his deadly in-swinging reverse, sent many stumps cart-wheeling. Earlier, making his ODI debut in the series against Pakistan, he had made the new ball float around in the air, and off-the-pitch too.
After that nine-wicket first Test, India started to believe what Pakistan great Wasim Akram had been saying repeatedly about this young, soft-spoken boy from Bengal, who he had mentored at KKR.
The cricket-crazy nation, that has for years craned their necks across the border to peep into their arch-rivals camp in order to appreciate genuine quicks, expected a lot from Shami. He was easy on the eyes, and the neck too. There was life beyond the ageing Zaheer Khan and erratic Sharma. Like they always did when a home pacer clocked 150 kph on a speedometer, India was excited.
In the subsequent Tests, after his debut against the West Indies last year, Shami would travel to South Africa and New Zealand, two nations that were famous for pace-friendly conditions.
Unfortunately, for the 25-year-old, the start of his overseas international career coincided with the mysterious phenomenon of pitches around the world going dead.The very un-English track at Nottingham would have broken his heart. But like always, Shami continued to bend his back.
And then Lord’s happened. On the first morning India got to bat on a damp green track. Watching from the dressing room Shami would have loved to see the sight of the ball flying around. And on the second day of the game, when the bearded speedster got the ball in his hand, he was like a child in Disneyland. There were so many entertaining options available to him and Shami wanted to be on every ride.
Against left-hander Alastair Cook, he would make the ball to dart in the air from outside the leg, take it across the batsman and into the hands of MS Dhoni, not far from first slip.
To the right-handed opener, Sam Robson, the ball would swing in towards middle-leg, move outside off after pitching, with Dhoni collecting it at shoulder height.
There was also the short-ball option, which could be bowled without too much strain on shoulder or back. “It’s all so easy in England,” the pacer used to toiling on unresponsive Indian tracks would have thought.
Shami’s first two overs to the English openers could well have been the synopsis of him as a bowler with variety. His body of work was showcased through those 12 balls.
There was a short ball, a good-length away going ball, a full-pitched in-coming ball and many more variations in line and length. He did manage an edge from Robson that was dropped, but he didn’t fall into a rhythm. Not surprisingly, Shami’s pitch map at the end of the second Test was like a colony of ants on the move as compared to Bhuvneshwar’s tight bee hive.
Doing too much
Bhuvneshwar, though much slower than Shami, was sticking to a line and moving the ball both ways. Quite early on the tour, he had learnt the art of bowling in England. Instead of banging the ball, it was always productive to let it graze off the surface.
Bowling further up would give the ball the time to swing and pitching it repeatedly on the ‘good length’ helps a pacer, especially one from abroad, to master the movement of the ball in the air. There’s no doubt that Shami can swing the ball, but by repeatedly changing his line and length, aspiring to bowl quick, he hasn’t been effective.
On the first day of the nets at Southampton, Sharma and Bhuvneshwar rested, watching Shami bowl enthusiastic. The central square is once again green and Shami needs to curb that enthusiasm.