ON SUNDAY, Mohammed Shami played his first ODI in two years and three months. His last outing in 50-over cricket was India’s loss to Australia in the World Cup semi-final at the SCG on March 26, 2015. But you wouldn’t have thought so. Somehow, Shami, who underwent a knee surgery soon after that event and was out for nearly a year and has since suffered another injury relapse, has seemed a constant part of the Indian team. Shami spent the entire Champions Trophy on the bench, bowling in the nets with his knee-strap as a constant companion. And till Sunday, he continued to do the same in the Caribbean.
The fact that India have kept him in the mix, despite being well aware of his injury liabilities, is a sign of how highly they rate Shami. That they have been on a winning spree — the Champions Trophy final was an aberration — and been dominating oppositions with their pace attack sans Shami is a sign of how spoilt they are in the pace department. Not that the West Indians are making it too difficult for them either, as they once produced another batting performance of severe ineptitude to finish with 189/9 in their 50 overs, leaving India with a straightforward chase.
A screaming bouncer
Shami wasted no time in letting everyone know that he was back once the rain stopped and the clouds cleared at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. He did so with a screaming bouncer of smell-the-leather quality that whizzed past Evin Lewis’ face. There was a sense of anticipation before Shami ran in, these days of a shorter run than before, and let it rip though. And the entire team applauded and cheered as the ball thudded into MS Dhoni’s gloves behind the wicket.
The one that followed was short and wide and deservedly slammed for four by Lewis. That was more or less the theme of his first spell, a mix of deliveries that pitched on a length and swung and seamed around and a few that were off the mark and duly punished. Importantly, he came back even better in his later spells, where he began varying his pace and mixing slower bouncers with cutters. Even though he didn’t finish with a wicket, his figures of 0/33 with two maidens was a good enough outing to convince the Indian selectors that he was well and truly back. Rarely has an Indian fast bowler after all disappeared off the scene for this long and still remained relevant enough to be fast-tracked right back.
But, he still didn’t seem to be at his fleetest in terms of rhythm and drive through the bowling action. It’s been a worry for the Indian camp ever since he returned from his latest major injury scare. There were certain occasions where he looked a tad laboured in his approach into the delivery stride. Perhaps, it was just Shami being a tad apprehensive of going full throttle, and understandably so, considering the way his career has transpired until this point. Though the focus was on Shami, it was the other two pacers, Umesh Yadav and Hardik Pandya, who ran away with the wickets.
It was Pandya, like he’s begun doing very consistently, who provided the first breakthrough, getting rid of a well-set Kyle Hope before drilling a hole in the West Indian middle-order with two more strikes. That left Yadav to come back and clean the lower order, which he did in addition to grabbing an acrobatic return catch, on a day India yet again showcased their new-found pace power.
Brief Scores: West Indies 189 for nine in 50 overs (Evin Lewis 35 off 60 balls, Kyle Hope 35 off 63 balls, Shai Hope 25 off 39,; Umesh Yadav 3/36, Hardik Pandya 3/40, Kuldeep yadav 2/31) vs India