There are few thrilling spectacles in cricket than the sight of a devilishly quick ball sneaking through the batsman’s defence and cannoning onto the stumps. There may be more cerebral modes of deception, like making the batsman nick after an elaborate set-up or hustling him to top edge a pull. But nothing pumps the adrenaline like an inswinger rattling the stumps. It’s like a slap on the batsman’s technique, judgement, competence and ego. Few contemporary bowlers excel in this art like Mohammad Shami.
Shami can occasionally drift into obscurity on the field, sleep-walking through his delivery strides. But, without any forewarning, he could also make the ball seam at vicious pace, beat the batsman with speed and bounce. He may look ineffective on the first day morning of a Test match, when conditions supposedly help the fast bowlers, but he can scythe through the batting when the surface is expected to aid the spinners. It’s this ability that makes him Virat Kohli’s prized asset, as precious as Jasprit Bumrah. His third and fourth inning exploits have fashioned some famous wins for India in the past two years. For instance, the 5 for 28 in Johannesburg and the 5 for 34 in Vizag, both versus South Africa.
Shami’s success owes to his ability to land the ball on the seam, a skill wizened fast bowlers say is difficult to master. It enables him to reverse, when the ball gets older and make the heavy ball skid. All this as the third or fourth change bowler, bowling with the wind or against it, up the slope or down, with the new ball or the old. And that disarming smile disguises a sharp cricketing brain. In all, Shami is a package that makes him as masterful a seam bowler as India ever had.