As Mohammed Shami was brought into the attack during the New Zealand innings, the commentators had a long discussion on why the pacer doesn’t get wickets in England. His wrist position is good, he extracts surprising bounce from the wicket and can swing it too but despite all of that he had only taken 21 wickets at an average of 47.04.
Former England skipper Nasser Hussain jokingly commented on air that the numbers should be the other way around given how kind England is to pacers. So then they set up trying to figure whether Shami was doing anything wrong or whether he was just unlucky or unfortunate.
According to CricViz data, Shami induced the highest number of false shot chances – 272 – created by an Indian bowler in the 2018 India-England series. The figure was nearly 100 more than the next best bowler. So he was doing something right and plainly put, he should have got more wickets.
While the broadcasters did put out the false shot numbers, they didn’t talk about how the England batsmen went after Shami. The pacer’s economy-rate during the five Tests he played in the series was 3.60. For a Test series, that is alarmingly high. It also, to an extent, explains the false shot chances... when you are on the attack, you tend to play and miss that little bit more.
But the discussion of what he was doing wrong led nowhere. He seemed to be getting it right... just not right enough and no one could quite put the finger on what was missing.
The spell against NZ on Tuesday began in a similar manner. He was the third bowler to be introduced into the attack – after Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah – but he almost had an immediate impact. Bumrah had not got his line or length right but Shami, who has been on two England tours, adjusted better.
There were disconcerting bouncers, the batsmen were playing and missing and he looked the most threatening Indian bowler on view.
The first spell was a solid 6-1-14-0. Very good bowling without the rewards. Would it be like 2018 again?
Shami's England tours
The second spell was even tighter, he went for 5-3-5-0 (overall 11-4-19-0). He kept things very tight from one end as Ashwin Ravichandran got India the breakthrough by sending back Tom Latham. The pressure wasn’t released from either end and finally, a good catch by Kohli, ended the opening stand.
It was a while before Shami was brought back into the attack for his third spell – 6-3-12-1 (overall 17-7-31-1) – but this time he finally got a wicket.
Shami had been slightly on the shorter side for most of the innings till that point. India wanted to keep things tight and that meant the bowlers didn’t want to bowl too full and allow the batsmen the opportunity to drive either.
But in England, when the ball is swinging, that is exactly what bowlers should look to do. Get them driving and you might concede a few fours but you will also create more genuine chances. So Shami pitched one right up to Ross Taylor, who failed to keep the drive down and was caught by a diving Shubman Gill.
Shami's stats under different captains
Now, Shami had his tail up. With less than 10 minutes left for lunch, Kohli brought Shami back into the attack and he struck another blow by sending back BJ Watling.
It was the kind of ball that bowlers dream about. Full enough, moving, beating the batsman who was playing a defensive shot and hitting the top of the off-stump. It ended up being a maiden-wicket over. The one-over spell was 1-1-0-1 (overall 18-8-31-2).
He got a short break after lunch – a break he needed – before he was brought back into the attack. Kohli needed wickets and Shami looked most likely to get them. And once again, the pacer delivered by dismissing the dangerous Colin de Grandhomme with a smart piece of bowling.
He went wide on the crease, angled the ball into de Grandhomme to trap the Kiwi batsman leg before wicket.
A little later in the spell, he removed Kyle Jamieson as well. The tall all-rounder had come out in the mood to play shots and he went after Shami a bit but the pacer eventually got him with a bouncer.
By now, Shami was clearly tiring. He was still running in as hard as he could but the zing was missing. His seven-over spell took a lot out of him. It was also his most expensive spell of the innings... 7-0-39-2 (overall 25-8-70-4) but NZ were seven wickets down by this point.
Shami's England tours
Ashwin and Jadeja wrapped by the innings after Ishant Sharma took Kane Williamson’s wicket but the star of the show was undoubtedly Shami (final figures: 26-8-76-4). His sustained pace and hostility kept NZ on the backfoot.
Did he bowl very different from what we saw in 2018? One can’t be sure but he would have certainly learnt that pitching it that little further up can make a huge difference in England. It can be the difference between being labelled unfortunate or successful. It is a lesson that will stand him and India in good stead in the upcoming five-Test series against England too.
All stats courtesy ESPNcricinfo