In the Mohun Bagan nets at the club ground on Wednesday, Mohammed Shami began bowling with a red ball. It was a curious choice, considering India won’t be playing any red-ball cricket in the next five-odd months. Also, his club team was training for a local T20 tournament. Shami’s team mate Debabrata Das requested for a change. He was finding it difficult to pick the deliveries against a green and maroon backdrop. The fast bowler obliged and picked up a white Kookaburra. The next ball was a fast toe-crusher that Das somehow dug out, at the expense of a chipped bat toe. The next one also landed on the same spot and Das berated Shami for damaging his bat. “I don’t have many substitutes,” Das bemoaned. Shami, in turn, advised him to bring his bat down straight.
On the mend from a knee surgery, the pacer looked to be in fine fettle. Ahead of India’s tour of Australia, he appeared to have gotten back his rhythm. This would be good news for India, because the team had missed him badly during their recent limited-overs travails. MS Dhoni repeatedly spoke about the value of the Bengal quick in the side because of the pace, control and most importantly, reverse swing that he brought to the team.
Shami has earned the trust through his 17 wickets at 17.29 during India’s eight-game winning spree in the World Cup in Australia. He had done so while braving a swollen knee that would eventually be operated on a month later. He was India’s highest wicket-taker in the previous Test series as well with 15 scalps at 35.80. He’s returning to his happy hunting ground, after a nine-month lay-off, for five ODIs and three T20s, starting January 12. “That I’m returning to international cricket in Australia is somewhat an advantage, for we were there for close to four-and-a-half months earlier this year and I’ve an idea about the conditions. It will help as far as confidence is concerned,” Shami says
Not enough practice
Shami also puts to rest concerns that he hasn’t had enough practice before the tour.”It was my first (big) injury and I had to undergo a seven-month rehab. After that when I played the Vijay Hazare Trophy, there was a little bit of tightness. After playing two-three matches it now feels a lot better. Now I’m bowling full tilt,” he says.
Returning to the fold after such a long gap means Shami has to play catch-up. The 25-year-old agrees to an extent. “I won’t say I’ve to start it all over again, but the challenge would be to get back the World Cup rhythm. It’s not easy when you’re out for eight-nine months.”
Shami’s improvement as a bowler has coincided with Bharat Arun taking charge as India’s bowling coach. In England last year Shami had looked completely out of rhythm picking up just five wickets at 73.20 in three Tests. He would go on long walks around the field with then bowling coach Joe Dawes for company. Shami now describes those routines as “fun” but there’s nothing funny for a cricketer when the chips are down.
Dawes got the axe soon after the England tour and was replaced by Arun. The change benefited Shami, for he took eight wickets at 19.00 in four matches in the ODI series that India would won comfortably. A few months later, as India went to Australia, he was a completely transformed operator. “I won’t say I had been facing problems with my run-up (in England). We play continuous cricket and there has to be ups and downs. When you’re doing well your shortcomings get overlooked. But when you’re not doing well, you’re under the scanner. Technically, I didn’t make any massive change for the Australia tour and World Cup. Only that I cut short my run-up a bit. And I felt a lot more comfortable.”
He, however, acknowledges Arun’s role in his progress. “The biggest advantage of having Bharat Arun as our bowling coach is that he’s an Indian and we can communicate freely. The level of understanding is better. It helps when a coach can communicate freely with his players. You can go into details and discuss finer points. Bharat Arun always backs the bowlers. He always gives us confidence, which is most important.”
It also helps, says Shami that his bowling partners help him stay relaxed. A gang of four tearaway quicks — Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Shami — is something that has never happened in Indian cricket before.
“This is a great thing. We back each other. Also, there’s a healthy competition between us. But most importantly, we enjoy each other’s company. There’s a sense of togetherness. When I was first picked to play for India, I was a bit overawed. I was not sure how a newcomer would be treated in the dressing room. But the dressing room atmosphere made me feel comfortable. My bowling partners played a big role in that. They all are fun-loving guys and overall this is a very complete bowling group that offers everything – pace, swing, variety. The whole unit is the leader, because we complement each other. If you ask me to choose one word to describe the chemistry, I would say mast.”