When the slow-motion replay came on, it almost felt like a doctored video – photoshopped to perfection. Something Alt News, the organisation that detects fake news, would be interested to investigate. It was perhaps the best delivery with the new ball this tournament — the Shami cracker to knock out Shai Hope. The dreamy seam presentation, the landing on the seam’s edge, the jagging nip-backer from well outside off-stump, and the clattering of the leather on wood.
When one saw it live, the first reaction was an audible gasp. Then a doubt. Was there an inside edge, you nagged the person sitting next to you. His jaw is open, neck craning at the television screen, waiting for the replay. In the middle, Shami is being mobbed by team-mates. One waits for the replay to clear the doubts. If you are at the ground, the big screen shows the replays faster than television. But it’s at a distance. One isn’t sure whether there was any contact. Back to the idiot box. That gasp again when visual confirmation comes.
Perhaps, it hit a crack. The next visual shows no such spot on the pitch. Then one looks at Shami’s fingers — in the subsequent replays that is. To see if he did something special, a special whip from the middle finger. Nothing again. You give up and just enjoy the whole spectacle again — the whistling seam and the extent of deviation.
We have had bowlers with great seam presentation before. S Sreesanth, for example. The difference lies in how Shami gets the ball whooshing through the air with a slight inward tilt. That enables the ball’s seam to land on its rough jagged edges as opposed to falling on its stomach, so to speak. Sreesanth’s would invariably land straight, with no tilt. And hence, he wouldn’t get the ball to deviate in as much.
This one from Shami was a beast: perfect in every way. It needed every little part to fit in the whole. To make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, if you will. From the seam to the tilt to the jagged-end landing. Everything had to be synchronised for the bedazzling result. That’s why these deliveries don’t happen often.
Indians have bowled far more vital nip-backers in the World Cup before. The most famous is Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s peach to startle Gordon Greenidge, shouldering arms in the 1983 World Cup final. He even put it on his visiting card. Dilip Vengsarkar tells a lovely story about it. “Ballu was organising his benefit match and I told him to invite Gordon Greenidge, that will help him get a bigger crowd. Gordon said of course he’ll play. Sandhu then gave him his visiting card and Gordon saw that there was a batsman who was shouldering arms and the stumps flying. He asked Sandhu who that was and he replies, ‘Of course that’s you, Gordon!’
Shami is a far better bowler than Sandhu, of course, but it’s levelled by the fact that Greenidge was a legendary batsman, several levels higher than Hope. And it was the World Cup final. So, that would still remain the greatest nip-backer bowled by an Indian but this gem of a delivery is worth salivating over for the sheer wizardry behind it.
There are bowlers like Mohammad Asif and Dale Steyn, more talented than Shami who have great in-cutters but their technique is understandable. And to an extent repeatable. And that’s why their nip-backers were recognised as great and batsmen looked out for it. You could see an Asif or Steyn’s middle finger actually cutting the ball. Going from off to leg. This ball from Shami was different. It was almost as if he was bowling an inswinger. James Anderson does it and the ball curves in the air. But this was a seaming delivery that changed its destination after landing. A seaming ball that was delivered as if it was a swinging delivery, if that makes sense. More reasons for anti fake-news sites to investigate.
The World Cup has already produced a few gems so far: Mitchell Starc’s corker of a yorker to knock down Ben Stokes, and don’t forget his wicked inswinger to take out Joe Root. There was that delicious ripper of a ball from Kuldeep Yadav that drifted away before it spun in viciously to make the classy Babar Azam look like a novice.
And now this. Close matches, great deliveries – after feeling it might be a dud after the first 10 days, the World Cup has come alive and how.