It’s incredibly difficult to make Mohammed Shami angry, or at least make him look angry. His Bengal teammates tried it several times, but Shami wouldn’t budge. Once, on the morning of a Ranji match, they hid his pair of studs when he went for a shower. By the time he came out, the Bengal captain had lost the toss and they were to bowl. Shami searched the entire dressing room, but couldn’t find his studs. But he realised it was a prank and went on to the field bare-foot, wearing that wistful smile of his, much to the befuddlement of his teammates. Eventually, they conceded defeat and returned the studs.
Even while playing, he’s seldom intemperate. He might, at times, looks chagrined, like when a fielders drops a sitter. But you seldom spot him scowling or stare at batsmen, let alone spew expletives, he doesn’t even stare back at them. So much so that he’s an anachronism.
Every time he beats the bats or the stumps, he just gives that wry, I-have-you-number kind of smile. Both Upul Tharanga and Dimuth Karunaratne — whom he dismissed in back to back overs during a hostile spell in the first innings — must have gotten accustomed to that visceral smile of his and wouldn’t be exactly pleased to see him wear that. It’s the way he lays the charm offensive, masquerading his deception, before shattering their morale.
At both Galle and Colombo, they’d looked so vulnerable against him that it seemed it was just a matter of time before they nicked one to the keeper or slips, though he couldn’t somehow procure their wickets. On Sunday, he nagged and nabbed both of them. There was a pattern to his build-up. He would start with a couple of bouncers; the first would generally fly over their head; the second, though, would follow them, leaping awkwardly from short of length. He, thus, would push them to the back foot.
It’s when he gets into his business, ravelling the tools of deception one by one. From a little wide of the crease, he would slant one to the middle and off. The next ball, he would come closer to the stumps and take one away from them, at a leavable length. The batsman has to be either in divine touch or thistle-headed to stab the bat at one of these. The Sri Lankans now began to doubt the ways of the ball. Then he would slip one just wide outside the off stump, nipping back a little.
If the batsman tentatively hangs his bat, he will, more often that not, nick it as the ball is coming back in. But if he survives, Shami’s follow-up delivery is often the killer ball, though in isolation it seems the most harmless of all. It comes with an angle and just holds the line, inducing an edge.
Thus was dismissed Tharanga. A couple of balls seamed away from him, one came back into him, which he narrowly managed to douse. The next ball was pitched on the fourth stump, around the same area as the previous delivery. But it didn’t bend back. But the already doubt-ridden Tharanga poked uncertainly at the ball. It was enough to take his edge.
Karunaratne was closely observing his partner. But the manner in which Shami set him up only confounded him further. A few uncertain stabs further, he yielded in much the same way as his partner. It was the exact delivery, but pitched a little further away from the stumps.
Buoyed, Shami amped up his pace and bristled in, each ball sparking a huff off excitement. A few whizzed past Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal. The latter was nearly was nearly terminated with a viciously bending in-swinger. The umpire reckoned it was just going over, upon review the Hawk Eye showed it could have trimmed the bails, but as in such marginal instances, the umpire’s call stood. Shami just wore that visceral smile of his, wondering perhaps the relevance of minute margins.
Had he, indeed, nixed him, it would have been a classical Shami set-up. Roughening Chandimal with a few shot balls and outswingers, before the sharp in-swinger from short of good length that thudded into his knee roll. Likewise, whenever he had the ball in his hand, he seemed capable of slicing through them. But it’s usually the spinners or Umesh Yadav who have benefitted from his outrageous spells. Sunday was no different.
The other day, Sri Lanka’s bowling coach waxed eloquent on him. “I would say, India is very lucky to have him, he is such a complete bowler that he will win you matches overseas,” Chaminda Vaas said.
Shami bowled six, probing overs in his first spell on Sunday. With better fortune, he would have ended up with a five-for. It has been the case for Shami in the entire series, and understandably so as the spinners are at the forefront on the turners.
Not that he would pine over it, for next year India are scheduled a lot of places he would find climes and conditions far more suitable than these, where he would be India’s strike bowler than an impact bowler. The signs are compelling to believe so.