IT WAS only four days ago that Mohammed Shami was waxing philosophical about how he hoped nobody else would have to experience the horrors of an injury layoff the way he did. The Bengal seamer was decked in a dapper suit that glitzy evening in Mumbai, his eyes beaming with expectation as only a few hours remained before he boarded a flight to Australia, the land Down Under where he had made a real name for himself at the grandest show of the cricket sphere, the World Cup.
Ironically, he had spent the first half of the following 10 months undergoing and recuperating from surgeries to an injured knee, and the second on crutches, not sure whether he could bowl again or don India colours and having to be content with seeing his teammates in action on TV. But on the eve of the team’s departure, Shami seemed a relieved man, bursting with excitement almost as if this was a second coming.
Unfortunately, the new beginning would cruelly come to a crashing halt in less than a week with Shami being ruled out even before he bowled a ball in a competitive match on tour, this time owing to a Grade II hamstring injury that will keep him out of action for at least 4-6 weeks. Little would the 25-year-old—who has subsequently been replaced by Bhuvneshwar Kumar—have known on Tuesday that he would be back on an international flight—this one heading to India—before he could even wear the jetlag off. That his bure din would be back to haunt him all over again.
BCCI’s chairman of the senior selection committee, Sandeep Patil, cleared any doubts about whether Shami had been picked prematurely after having been out of action for so long.
“Shami was passed fit by Andrew Leipus (chief physiotherapist of NCA). We were only reported about Mohit’s (Sharma) injury. This injury happened during practice there, which can happen to anyone. This is sheer bad luck and a big blow to all; to Shami, the team and India,” Patil told The Sunday Express.
After a 30-day rehab at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore, Shami had represented his home state of Bengal in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, playing four matches in all. He looked to be back at his wicket-taking best in the T20s, returning figures of 3/18 and 2/30 against Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu respectively. He was also reportedly bowling in the nets in Perth, where India started their tour, before suffering the injury during one of the practice sessions.
While it is a big blow like Patil put it, Shami’s sudden exit will also leave a big hole in India’s pace attack as even skipper MS Dhoni had spoken about how the pacer was a vital cog in his plans in Australia and for the World T20. India were already without Mohit Sharma, who along with Shami and Umesh Yadav had formed an incisive partnership with the new balls during the World Cup, making a massive impact on all comers with their seam movement and their judicious usage of the short ball.
While Yadav’s the only remaining survivor from that triumvirate, his form has been up and down ever since across all formats. But India will depend squarely on his swing and additional burst of pace with no one of note to complement him from the other end. They have no choice.
Door opens for Bhuvi
Shami’s absence will open the door for the relatively unknown Barinder Sran, who’s impressed in both the warm-up games with his left-arm pace. And he’s likely to now be the front-runner to take the new-ball with Yadav. Just like they have in the two games against Western Australian XI at the WACA. All-rounder Rishi Dhawan too has looked the part in his two outings with the ball, and his big-hitting abilities with the bat should make him a likely pick in the XI for the opening ODI.
Incidentally, Shami had not bowled in the first of the practice games, which was a T20 contest on Friday before he was officially pulled out from the squad. Shami’s loss will be Bhuvneshwar’s gain in many ways. The lanky Uttar Pradesh swing bowler has seen his stocks dip rather radically in the last 18 months or so. He only appeared in a single match during the World Cup, against UAE at Perth incidentally.
Bhuvneshwar was at the helm of the attack once more when India took on South Africa at home, with the selectors deciding to go with a pace-attack that was themed on ‘lack of pace’. He did play a crucial role in India’s series-leveling victory at Indore, where he picked up wickets at strategic and match-turning points to finish with figures of 3/41. There were points during that match where he did seem to have regained some of his potency whilst swinging the ball. He also looked to have gained a few yards in pace.
But he finished the series on a rather sorry note when he became the first Indian bowler to complete a century with the ball in an ODI—AB de Villiers smashing him for 106 in his 10 overs. As for Shami, he’s back to where he hates it the most, rehabilitating once more from a serious injury with hopes of regaining his India cap pushed back agonizingly. It’s back to overcoming the bure din and yet again building himself towards what would now be a third coming.