As his colleagues parted for the lunch break, Mohammed Shami paused on his lonely walk from the Justin Langer Stand and lingered, quizzically peering at the crack-laden strip, perhaps contemplating what the fuss about the pitch was. It lay glistening in the sun, the freckles on the face nothing but a facial contortion. From the edge of the crease, he shadow-bowled, before someone called him out.
Shami wasn’t quite a scattergun that he sometimes is, but he wasn’t penetrative either. He wasn’t gift-wrapping loose deliveries, but wasn’t looking like he would pick wickets either, either bowling a wee bit outside off-stump or misdirecting the short balls. He was like a bowler whose main brief was to stem the run-flow, but India and Shami were desperate for wickets. Tim Paine and Usman Khawaja were assiduously accumulating a total that could prove daunting for them to chase down.
Upon resumption, Kolhi would have been tempted to dial the emergency number — Jasprit Bumrah. But he resisted. Maybe, he thought he would keep his gun bowler fresh for the new ball, which was due in two overs. Maybe, he saw something in Shami, a spark or glint. Or maybe, it was plain hunch that Shami was due for something special. Whatever, the skipper was not made to repent his call, as Shami produced a spell so devastating that it made Glenn McGrath wonder: “Where was he hiding under the sun?”
Something was hampering Shami in the burst before lunch — he wasn’t happy with the run-up, remeasured it several times, his body was twisting in the follow-through and he was clutching his right shoulder, as if it were stiff. Consequently, his pace was less consistent, his lines were too erratic to pose a considerable threat.
But it was a different Shami post Lunch — the run-up was unhurried, the load-up was smooth, the release fluent and the follow-through smooth. And more importantly, he began to probe a top-of-off-stump seaming-into-the-body line rather than plugging away on the fifth-sixth stump. It woke up the pitch too. The fifth ball of the first over after lunch, back of a length, took off deviously from a ravine-like crack and crept into Paine body at such fiendish pace that the Australian skipper couldn’t evade in time. There was a bit of fortune involved, but it was Shami’s pace and extra bounce that broke the resistance. He also realised the perfect length on the pitch. The next ball, he accounted for Aaron Finch, a leg-side-bound short ball kissed his glove on way to the ‘keeper.
Finch was purely undone by the fear Shami had sown with the previous delivery. Anticipating a similar delivery, he shuffled a long way to the off-side and seeing the line of the ball, he thought he could nudge it down the leg-side. But he underestimated the speed of Shami. Thus, in the space of two deliveries, he brought India back into the game. It’s a different story that another lower-order fightback shattered India’s hopes and took the game further away, but without Shami’s spell, they would have been in a deeper gorge.
Shami, though, wasn’t finished yet — Pat Cummins was struck flush on the shoulder with a short ball, leaving the big fast bowler writhing in pain, injecting spasms of fear even in Usman Khawaja, who had been batting for close to four hours. Eventually, he nailed him with a mirror-replica of the Paine delivery, a climbing short ball that would have cannoned onto his neck had not the glove intervened.
It was Lyon’s turn to get whacked on the helmet again, and the embattled offie tried to hit himself out of trouble and perished. Of all the wickets, it contented him like no other. For he could sense the fear in the batsman’s eyes.
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