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Mohammad Shami: ‘Those who troll aren’t real fans, nor are they real Indians. I know what I represent, fight for my country’

Mohammad Shami’s meteoric rise from a village is a great example of the democratisation of cricket in the country. He is best suited to advise youngsters from small towns how to leap over various obstacles in pursuit of their dream.

Mohammad ShamiIdea Exchange: India’s fast bowler Mohammad Shami shared his life-changing journey from a backward village to worldwide fame. (Suvajit Dey)

India’s fast bowler Mohammad Shami talks about the vitriolic trolling he was subjected to after the T20 World Cup game against Pakistan and his life-changing journey from a backward village to worldwide fame. The session was moderated by Deputy Associate Editor Sriram Veera.

Gaurav Bhatt: When you were young, your father had prepared a concrete pitch, not just for you but the village. How were those days?

Mohammad Shami: There was some struggle in that phase. We were all young and no one knew the direction one would take. It depended on passion, how much you played and how much skill you had acquired. We did not have much idea about the game except whatever we saw on television. We tried to execute what we heard. My father is a friendly person and used to help others out. Ours is a political family, so people would come and go. When we laid out the concrete pitch in that area, there was no public facility in the locality except a government school. Behind it was our compound, and we made a pitch because it was in nobody’s way and was easily accessible. Then local kids started coming in. We let them in and never felt like preventing them from entering the space. We formed groups and played against each other. We had great fun.

Gaurav Bhatt: Your childhood coach Badrudin says that you were in the habit of collecting cricket balls. How big was your collection?

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Mohammad Shami: Batsmen have a fondness for fiddling around with the ball and bowlers like to play around with the bat. But my focus or love was always the ball. What natural shots I had as a batsman then, I still have them today (smiles wryly). With the ball, I felt each had a distinct trait. I knew how much harkat (movement) the ball does, how much it swings, how much it reverses. So I never felt like throwing any ball away. I would keep each and use it in the nets the next day. If it didn’t come good on the nets, I would give it to kids in the village.

The captain plays a big role, be it on the bowling or the batting side. Everything depends on a captain’s demand. The one thing I like about Virat is his energy. And the second is that he always supports bowlers

Gaurav Bhatt: You loved bhujia and biryani in your childhood. But you had to sacrifice your indulgence as your career progressed.

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Mohammad Shami: Back then, our village was nondescript, with narrow roads and not too many shops. Things have changed now, there are good roads, big shops, people have started to go out and learn about different cultures. Growing up, most of the shops belonged to my friends’ families. So every evening, we would go on our usual round and find familiar faces everywhere. The last shop was the bhujia one. We ate whatever we felt like because it was ours and we didn’t have to think much about propriety. That time we didn’t care much about our diet either. We ate whatever we wanted, be it bhujia or biryani (laughs out loudly).

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Mohammad Shami: I eat the same even now and it tastes just the same. When I go home, I still have a lot of green mangoes, the mango grove is still there. The old shops are there, too, but have been modernised. A lot of things have changed. The way people dress up has changed, the way they speak has changed. It feels good that they have understood there is a world outside this village. It is not their mistake that they were born in a village, which had a low rate of literacy and lacked education facilities some 15-20 years ago. Now it is well-developed. The internet, multimedia and Android phones have opened their eyes and sensibilities to the world. It feels nice that a lot has changed. The new generation has moved out of the village in pursuit of education and jobs. So the concept of people sitting around has changed. But the food remains the same. You get the pure stuff even now.

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Mohammed Shami.

Shamik Chakrabarty: So, your love for biryani has faded in these days of fitness?

Mohammad Shami: I always love it. But I have to be careful that I don’t put on weight. I probably eat it once a month from 28 times before (laughs). I have never forgotten its flavour.

Sriram Veera: Can you talk about the lovely seam presentation you manage? We hear that in your growing up years you would almost sleep with a ball, always be with it. Can you talk about that love for the cherry?

Mohammad Shami: God certainly gives you some skill but the rest you need to develop. No one is born a scientist. You might be intelligent but to become a scientist, you have to work hard and change yourself. Similarly, no one is born a batsman or bowler, you have to become one. There is hard work in every success story. We fast bowlers like to get the feel, the grip, and I always try to release the ball along the seam (even when I am just toying with it). If you are not watching the replay or slow motion on television, you will have no idea about how much the ball had swung, from where it swung or the seam position. Initially, I used to wonder, “Oh the ball seam has gone so straight, but I did not see the ball after it left my hand.” Then I understood the movement depended on my hand. It felt great.

Whichever job you choose, be it as a cricketer or some other profession, if you don’t love it, or if you are not committed to it, you won’t be successful because you have to repeat and repeat. The more you repeat, the better your flow would be and you move forward. So if you don’t love the bat, I don’t think you could be a better batsman. You have to care, you have to love. My mindset is that if I have to use the ball the next day, or for three-four days, I have to maintain it. That’s my duty. Even in the Indian team, if I like a ball, I tell the coaches that I would like to use it the following day. There are some balls that give you a feel when they leave your hand. It seems that each ball would do the things you want it to do and that it would complement your skills.

Cricket has given me an identity. If there is anything for me after my parents, it has to be cricket and my loyalty to the game. I don’t think there can be anything more important than cricket. It is my life, it is everything

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Sriram Veera: During the 2018 Test series in England, you were closely observing how James Anderson bowled. What did you learn?

Mohammad Shami: Anderson is a different player when he plays at home and when he plays overseas. When he’s playing at home, I observe what is his approach, at what length does he bowl, how much swing he would get and how does he control the swing. He has taken so many wickets, so obviously, there’s something special about him. Therefore, it is important to watch the bowler that you consider to be good, understand his skill and see if it can benefit yourself.

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Sandeep Dwivedi: India was known as the land of spinners but fast bowlers like you have changed the mindset. Indian pacers were bowling bouncers in the U19 World Cup, too. Do you think the image of Indian cricket has changed?

Mohammad Shami: There is a lot of difference between earlier teams and this one, and the difference in results especially is immense. The fast bowling unit, or even the overall bowling unit, that we formed after 2015 is on a different level. Be it in fielding, fitness or batting, we have changed completely compared to the old Indian team. We have won everywhere, given befitting replies everywhere. If you look at the contribution of the bowling unit, understand the boys have contributed with the bat also. It is a very good sign for the Indian team and I hope it will continue like this in the future too.

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Sandeep Dwivedi: Batsmen have long been superstars in cricket. Do you think time has come to give hard working bowlers their due too? Be it rules or protective equipment, things are so much in favour of batsmen.

Mohammad Shami: I believe it is bowlers who bring you into the game in any format. Whenever the Indian bowlers have done well, you have got the results for years now. All rules are in favour of batsmen, why not some in favour of bowlers? A no-ball brings a free hit, the batsman cannot get out. Fair enough, but you have to give some benefit to the bowlers, too.

The fast bowling unit, or even the overall bowling unit, we have formed after 2015 is on a different level. Be it fielding, fitness, batting, everything has changed completely compared to the old team. We’ve won everywhere

Abhishek Purohit: I remember watching you for the first time in the Duleep Trophy final in 2012. You took eight wickets in an innings win for the East Zone, dismissing the likes of Mohammed Kaif and Naman Ojha. You would go on to play for India in a year. Did you feel then that the chance would come so soon?

Mohammad Shami: Honestly, I did not know. I knew I had got a platform but it was my job to work hard. At that time, I had not even dreamt that I would play for India in a year’s time. After that, I did well with both the bat and ball for India A and also went to New Zealand with India A. I played for India after that. It has been a very good journey overall and I believe the Indian team picked me at the right time.

Sriram Veera: There was a phase in your personal life that was threatening to spill over into your professional career. It seemed you had a lot of anger, as the bowling coach Bharat Arun once said. Then you went to the NCA, worked on your fitness and re-focussed. What was going on in your mind at that time?

Mohammad Shami: My family has always stood by me during tough times. The coaches (Ravi Shastri and Arun) met me when I had already come out of the fight. I had decided by then that I should focus on the game and on my fitness. They gave me good advice and appreciated that I had done well, fought the situation and returned to the field. They told me how it would keep me occupied, divert my attention and help me improve my skills. As far as the fight goes, you have to keep fighting one thing or the other all your life.

Former India bowling coach Bharat Arun. (File)

Devendra Pandey: What was your reaction when you saw Jasprit Bumrah bowl for the first time? And what’s his one quality that you wished you had?

Mohammad Shami: The first time I saw him was during the IPL. It felt a bit strange seeing him because of his bowling action. I wondered how someone could bowl so fast with that action and where he got the power from. When he got drafted in the Indian team, I knew him better. He performed and became part of the Test team. Today, you see a different Jasprit Bumrah. He has such control, he has everything.

The one thing I would love to have from him is his yorker. Such a lovely ball. It’s fun to bowl together. With the kind of Test match bowling we have now, I don’t think we ever had such a period in our cricketing history. If you look at our graph for the last five years, I feel it is the highest. I enjoy bowling with Jassi, Umesh, Ishant and all of them. We know each other’s ability. The best quality of this bowling unit is that whenever someone is down, we lift each other up and give confidence. These are the things one remembers in life. We walk together through thick and thin.

Devendra Pandey: One batsman you don’t like bowling to at the nets?

Mohammad Shami: We are professionals, it’s never a case of likes. The BCCI pays us so well to do what we like, so one enjoys bowling (laughs). But no one can irritate you like Cheteshwar Pujara. As everyone knows, unless he hits 100 to 200 balls, he doesn’t get sleep!

Shamik Chakrabarty: What were the reasons for our failure in the T20 World Cup; there were huge expectations. What went wrong?

Mohammad Shami: Yes, there were great expectations. But we are also human. Mistakes can happen. We didn’t execute properly and I admit that, but it’s not like that we can always execute 100 per cent and no team can defeat us. It doesn’t work like that. It’s a game.

Sriram Veera: How important is a captain and what kind of support did Kohli extend to you?

Mohammad Shami: The captain plays a big role, be it on the bowling or batting side. Everything depends on a captain’s demand. The one thing I like about Virat is his energy. And the second is that he always supports the bowlers. He is always around the bowlers, planning strategies with them. And in case the plan isn’t working, he agrees to change it. It is good if the captain is on your side, you feel comfortable.

Sriram Veera: Kohli supported you during the T20 World Cup, when you got trolled on social media. He stood up for you and said that trolling on religion is “pathetic.” What was going through your mind at the time?

Mohammad Shami: There is no cure for this kind of thinking. Those who troll (on religion) are not real fans, nor are they real Indians. If you consider a player as a hero and then behave this way, you are not being an Indian supporter. And I feel one should not get hurt by comments made by such people.

There was just one thing going on in my mind. If I consider someone as my role model, I will never speak ill about that person. And in case someone is saying something hurtful to me, he can’t be my fan or a fan of the

Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami. (File/AP)

Indian team. So actually, I don’t mind what he says.

It is the mindset of people. It shows their low-level of education. When people with unknown social media profiles, or even one with a few followers, point fingers at someone, they don’t have anything to lose. For them, nothing is at stake because they are nobodies. But in case we react to them as a role model, as a celebrity, as an Indian cricketer, we are giving them undue importance. We don’t need to engage with them.

We know what we are, we don’t need to say what India means to us because we represent the country and we fight for our country. So we don’t need to prove anything to anyone by saying or reacting to such trolls.

Sandeep Dwivedi: Do you think people understand the effort and thought that go behind your bowling? Do you think they can appreciate it?

Mohammad Shami: The real fans would definitely appreciate it. Even those who have played a little bit of the game can understand it. But for those who look for controversy, I don’t care what they think or whether they appreciate my game or not. I don’t care if they are laughing or crying. True fans and my team-mates do understand. Of course, I am also hurt inside if runs go. I respect that sentiment in the true fans and team-mates. Because I am also hurt. Just as I am disappointed, I can understand true fans are also disappointed. I always respect true fans. Don’t care about the abusers.

Sriram Veera: What is the role of faith in your life?

Mohammad Shami: Har insaan ka mazhab alag hai, har insaan usko alag tarah se maanta hai (Everyone has a different faith and everyone follows it in their own way). But I will say one thing, everyone believes in the almighty. In English, he is called God, in Hindi he is Bhagwan and in Urdu he is Allah. At the end of the day, it is the same thing. You need to look within to see who you believe in and who you are. And that’s how you will be closer to reality.

Sriram Veera: Cricket is a beautiful sport, a bubble away from all these differences in real life. What does cricket mean to you?

Mohammad Shami: Cricket has given me an identity. There can’t be anything bigger. It has given me, my family and those around me everything. The place where I live is seen as Mohammad Shami’s region, my family is seen as Mohammad Shami’s parents. Forget what role cricket has played in my life, it is my life, it is everything. If there is anything for me after my parents, it has to be cricket and my loyalty to the game. I don’t think there can be anything more important than that. It has made me, after my parents. So one should respect cricket.

Parveen Dogra: In your formative years, which bowlers did you admire and collect posters of?

Mohammad Shami: I never collected any posters but did like the fast bowling units. West Indies used to be very good, going by the videos and records. Pakistan also had a good time with Akram, Younis and Akhtar. Australia was good with Brett Lee and company. I like different fast bowlers, search for similarities with my bowling and try to execute better.

Tushar Bhaduri: Can you talk about the rotation system? Do you decide what games to sit out? How does it work?

Mohammad Shami: Who has the courage, which bowler or batsman has the himmat to say that he wants to sit out? No one even wishes to sit out. Of course, there is something called workload management. I would agree with it to an extent but at times I think there are some minus points in it as well. I feel that at times when you are in good form and in great rhythm, you shouldn’t stop playing. Of course, at times I feel, for the sake of recovery, I need to take a break. You have to do it smartly.

Parveen Dogra: Indian teenagers just won the U-19 World Cup. Did anyone catch your eye and what’s your message for them?

Mohammad Shami: They performed well. The bowlers and batsmen; both did well. Spinners did a particularly good job as the ball was turning a lot. In such games, the role of captaincy becomes important and Yash Dhull did a very good job. Congratulations to all of them from my heart and I would just like to say one thing: Keep working hard. You have to work really, really hard. It’s a long road. You have got a platform now and you have to keep improving.

First published on: 28-02-2022 at 03:36 IST
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