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Drop Mohammed Shami at your peril, India

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Shami has been India's X-factor

ICC

Drop Mohammed Shami at your peril, India

The familiar tale of the 2018 series against England, everything good and bad is associated with it, especially after India’s promise throughout the series with no real result. It wasn’t just India who fell into that category but also Mohammed Shami, the Renaissance man, in the same space.

On December 19, 2020, the Indian cricket had fallen on its feet, the 36 was certainly ringing like a blown-out alarm with sirens all over it. That combined with the fact that their skipper and vocal point of contact, Virat Kohli, was set to miss the remainder of the Test put them in an ultimate coup. But India’s fate was such that the odds and the luck were totally against them, Mohammed Shami was injured while batting in the second innings. 

A retired-not-out against his name, Shami walked out with the physio Nitin Patel, the first of the many vital wounds that India were going to have in the series. Hindsight is often good but if you told Ajinkya Rahane that he would win a series in Australia, without Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin, he would only pinch himself. India were not just wounded (figuratively) but also literally. 

Three months later, India stood tall, singing their national anthem, against England. Kohli returned, Ashwin returned, Jadeja was on the cusp and India’s mojo with the ball returned. But Shami was an absentee, he wasn’t fit, he wasn’t ready to play the series. In his absence, Mohammed Siraj had made a name for himself and the call was clear as daylight, "play Siraj everywhere possible."

Shami’s IPL performance certainly didn’t light any spark but as they say, red-ball and white-ball are two different ball games. As he returns to the Indian setup, for the first time since the start of the Australia series, the doubts surrounding his place have returned, thanks to Siraj’s red-hot form. However, Shami is that bowler that India shouldn’t and can’t drop, especially considering his abilities in England, where pitches are tailor-made for his style of bowling. 

Shami and the English summer of 2018

But to understand England, Shami and India’s relationship, the calendar has to always go back to 2018. For some, it was the greatest Indian bowling attack to play in England and for the others, India were just second-favourites against the Three Lions, naturally. India’s batting faltered but bowling stood out, seemingly with their relentless attitude and terrific control. 

Ishant finished on top of the wickets column, with 18, closely followed by Shami, with 16 of his own, at 38.87, worst amongst the bowlers on the tour. Was Shami terrible or terribly unlucky? While Stuart Broad, Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma, all stood out in their own rights, Shami was the superior bowler on the tour, with 26% of his deliveries, according to Cricviz, having induced an edge or a miss.

In contrast to the best since 2006, Shami seals fifth place, with his 26.2%, only behind Lahiru Kumara, Jofra Archer, Saeed Ajmal and Chris Tremlett. However, very often, in his career, the pacer has threatened to break away from the rest of the pack with little success. Throughout the series against England, Shami was consistently threatening to take the attack to the opponents, which he did, in all fairness only for the fielders to mess it through and through. 

A break-down of Shami’s wickets paint a detailed picture of his bowling performance; seven out of his 16 wickets from the 2018 tour were top-order batsmen. Only Ishant, out of Indian pacers, had taken more top-order wickets, with nine in the series. Only two of his wickets came from the tail-enders, with eight of his other wickets being of the middle-order batsmen, showing his ability to move the ball, both with the new and the old nut. 

Numbers don’t show everything usually but in this case, clear and vivid - that Shami’s voyage in England during the 2018 series was one that should have been filled with wickets and brimming confidence. Instead, it left him in a terrible state, with his average being widely talked about after the series. His expected average, according to Cricviz, was 23.2, which in reality ended with 38.87, a near 16-run differential.

Shami in Tests since his comeback 

Taking all data points away, the pacer’s presence has always been halted with injuries, several of them ruling him out of series’ at different points of his career. But Shami’s presence in the unit is extremely valuable. Since 2017, the right-arm pacer has led the bowling charts, as a pacer in the Indian bowling unit, with 85 wickets, two more than Bumrah during the same phase. More things into perspective, Shami during the time frame, among pacers, has played the most number of Tests in the Indian bowling unit. To give context, during the same period, Ashwin has played 43 Tests, showing that Shami isn’t on the fringe - when it comes to workload. 

Since 2017, the experienced seamer has made an instant impact with the new ball, striking in 15 of the 28 Tests during the time frame. Out of the 104 wickets that he has taken since his return to the Indian setup, 70 have been of top or middle-order batsmen. Not just that, in the first ten overs of an innings, Shami has struck 17 times with 12 more wickets in the overs from 11-20 of an innings, showcasing his worth with the new cherry.

However, he is equally handy in the second innings, with 55 wickets, out of which 15 have come in the first 20 overs of the innings. In the same time frame, the right-arm pacer strikes every 45th ball, with 104 wickets, most for a pacer and just five wickets behind all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. In a career that was always on the cusp of being halted, Shami made a comeback multiple times to prove his worth. 

Having struggled in the first Test against New Zealand, in 2020, with just one wicket, Shami sprung off the board in the second, picking a four-wicket haul in the Test match. In 30 of India’s wins since his comeback, the pacer has picked up 59 wickets, at an average of 19.1, striking at 37.4. With the discussion pertaining to whether Shami should be picked or not, it is a case of more than statistics. 

"We need to give our 100%, may be 110 percent, in this match because this is the final effort of our two years of hard work. Double your effort in the coming few days," Shami told bcci.tv.

On paper, you can just view it as words but in reality, the fact that the pacer has given his 110% per cent every time he has stepped on the field makes it a reality rather than just words. Whichever way you look at it, Shami will walk in as a favourite to play the World Test Championship final, not just because of the conditions - that depends on the clouds, wind and weather - but more because of his skill-set, the ability to put the batsmen under immediate pressure with the new or the old ball.

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