All that is gold does not glitter, wrote JRR Tolkien. 2016 saw four passages of play which got overshadowed by widely celebrated feats that followed. Hopefully this quartet – to quote from Tolkien’s poem again – ‘a light from the shadows shall spring’ in 2017.
The breeze was gathering in pace. The white flannels were fluttering. The 12th man was ferrying a stack of blue caps to the middle, juggling them like a cap-seller. The shadows were gradually stretching. To break the press box-monotony, I meandered onto the adjoining stand, in the utter solitude of the vast but vacant expanse. It afforded a stunning view from almost right behind the bowler’s arm, though the angle perhaps exaggerated a fast bowlers’ inward movement.
It was the final session of a day wherein Virat Kohli has notched up his maiden double hundred. Nothing else, it seemed, would matter in the remainder of the opener in North Sound.
Now West Indies had reeled off to a stodgy start, almost yawn-inducing. At deep-third man, Mohammed Shami wandered restlessly. At the end of the ninth over, Shami finally got to touch the shining red ball. He strode into his whippy run-up from the Curtly Ambrose End. But all the build-up turned a bit anti-climactic as the first ball on his international return reached the keeper almost on the second bounce. The next four balls were as vapid, but there was a lurking hunch that something special on the way, as Shami was unusually egging himself on and rushing back to the top of the run-up after every delivery. It seemed only a matter of one good ball that concurs to his whims. It came almost immediately.
The fifth ball more or less assured me that Shami, on his comeback, hadn’t lost any of his precious gifts. The ball spat off the deck—the seam so deliciously upright—and then cut away from Rajendra Chandrika’s tenuously thrust willow. The latter, if he were a cricket tragic, would have been lulled by the sheer symmetrical beauty of it all. I certainly was, scampering to the nearest television to catch the replay. An over and three balls later, a replica of the same ball brushed his bat to the keeper. He bowled only three more balls that evening, before stumps were drawn.
The next morning, though, Kohli had few doubts to whom he would entrust the still-shiny ball. Shami was it, and he straightaway hit the straps, tormenting Kraigg Brathwaite and nightwatchman Devendra Bishoo with a heady concoction of pace, swing, seam and extra bounce, allied by unflagging accuracy, the ball landing as if on a string. Only that they survived by the proverbial skin off their teeth and copious amount of luck. Or the deliveries were too good for them.
Then shortly before lunch, Kohli recalled him to nip a promising little partnership. With his third ball, he reciprocated the skipper’s faith with the sort of innocuous short balls that were to haunt Darren Bravo all through the series. It was slightly shorter than the usual back-of-length ball and slanted across him. But just at the moment Bravo reckoned he could glide it over the slip cordon, the ball climbed and straightened on to him to take his edge. Bravo stood frozen at the crease.
Nothing of Shami changed post lunch. A clueless Marlon Samuels was worked over. He softened him up with a spate of short-of-length balls angling into him, before the one that held its line procured his edge. In the same over was consumed Jermaine Blackwood, the extra bounce and away movement accounting for him. On the same pitch on which West Indies bowlers eked out only two wickets in 70 overs, Shami returned with glittering numbers of 20-4-66-4. Like the hustling wind, he cut through them.
He bowled just 10 overs in the second innings, for by that time the surface had begun to wear and Ravichandran Ashwin completed the rout with a seven-wicket haul. In the end, Shami’s effervescence was lost in the combined aura of Ashwin and Kohli, a theme that resonated all round the year.
But Shami just kept plugging away, unsung and a little under-appreciated, but whenever thrust with the ball, shiny or abrade, making it recite uneasy notes for the batsmen. But it’s Shami’s fate some of his finest occasions were lost in the backdrop of an occasion grander, like his own terrific Test debut was drowned in the din of Sachin Tendulkar’s 199th Test.
It was cruel that ended the year with another injury, and crueller that his wife was unfortunately trolled for her costumes.