At some point, despite doing nothing drastically wrong, Mohammed Shami found himself being dropped from India’s One-day International squad.
He had always been a wicket-taking bowler in the format but fitness problems along with the rise of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar made him the spare wheel in the mix.
He wasn’t as good as Burmah at the death and Kumar’s slower ball variations combined with his nagging length made him a hard man to replace. At home, spinners always ruled the roost but in an away series, India would always consider playing a third fast bowler. Then, along came Hardik Pandya and suddenly the third seamer was not even a certainty even when India played abroad.
And as a result, Shami often found himself on the bench or out of the squad altogether. He was dropped for the ODIs against England in 2018 and then again, left out for the last three matches against the West Indies.
His problem in ODIs largely centred around control and accuracy. When he did play, he was getting the wickets but his economy rate was always on the higher side. The shoulder injury didn’t help either as he was rarely, if ever, at his best.
India tried giving chances to different bowlers. Shardul Thakur, Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammad Siraj and Siddharth Kaul have all got a go. While a few have shown glimpses of potential, they have failed to grab their chances and finally, India turned back to Umesh Yadav and Shami.
Shami’s ODI career numbers
Average of 25.67
Economy rate of 5.49
Strike rate of 28
But Umesh is perhaps a bit too aggressive for the short formats. He is always going for wickets and in the process, leaks runs as well. Shami, on the other hand, seems to be coming to grips with the requirements of the ODI format much better. Being part of the Test XI on a regular basis is clearly helping his rhythm and his confidence.
In the first ODI against New Zealand, his ability to get the ball to move both ways was key. Shami got India the early wickets by dismissing the openers and then returned later in the innings to send back Mitchell Santner too. He ended up with match figures of 3-19 in 6 overs.
The 28-year-old fast bowler maintains a very good seam position as well and in countries like England and New Zealand, where the weather can play a role in the proceedings, that is an invaluable skill to have.
During the course of the match, Shami also became the fastest India bowler to the 100-wicket mark.
For Shami, the big change in recent times has been his fitness as for the first time in almost two years, he is completely fit. So while he would previously bowl at around 134-135, he is now able to crank it up to the mid-140s.
“Injuries changed my outlook. I struggled for around 18 months with injury but after that I have worked hard on my fitness and that is helping. I spent a good time at our rehab centre which is world class. The management and support staff have been really cooperative, as has been my captain who has always encouraged me,” said Shami after the game.
The other part of the equation is how well this bowling line-up is working as a unit. Shami made the early inroads, then Yuzvendra Chahal chipped in with a couple of vital wickets before Kuldeep Yadav ran through them.
“Till now, whatever we have achieved has been a team effort. We enjoy each other’s success and are able to execute our plans. If we have a plan A that doesn’t work, there’s always a Plan B. As a bowling unit, we decide things together, said Shami.
Shami success in recent times means that India skipper Virat Kohli can breathe a little easy about the third seamers slot. He is a bowler in form and is he continues to perform in the same vein, he might even keep Bhuvneshwar on his toes.
“The fast bowling group together believes they can knock any side over,” Kohli said when after about Shami’s bowling performance. “And the belief in his [Shami’s] own ability is the key and his fitness – this is the fittest I’ve seen him in his career. He believes he knows how to get batsmen out in Test cricket and that is now flowing into ODIs as well.”
The player-of-the-match award was just reward for his efforts and Shami will know he has done enough in the recent past to ensure that he will be on the plane to England but getting into the playing XI will require more of the same in the nine ODI matches and the Indian Premier League season that will follow.