A chance meeting with Pakistani legend turned the tide for Indian fast bowler who has emerged as main strike bowler after a disappointing Test series Down Under
Sometime during the tri-series preceding the World Cup, Mohammed Shami was preparing to take another tiring flight when he bumped into Wasim Akram at the airport. After the usual hi and hello, Akram came straight to the point. He told the 24-year-old that he wasn’t impressed with whatever he had seen in the past couple of months.
Now Akram had reason to be disappointed. In the four-Test series, which India lost 0-2, Shami repeatedly bowled, what MS Dhoni would call “boundary balls”, effectively releasing the pressure created from the other end. Yes, he picked up 15 wickets, but they came at a horrible average of 35.80. Why, he even gave away nearly four an over. In the ODI series involving Australia and England, Shami painted a poorer picture of himself by picking up two wickets in four games at 49.
Now, Shami and Akram go a long way. It was the Pakistan legend who spotted him at the Kolkata Knight Riders nets a few years ago. Back then, Shami was one of the many bowlers sweating it out on the Ranji circuit. But Akram foresaw great things for Shami. Every time he would visit Kolkata, journalists would ask him to name one pacer to watch out for. And every time, Akram would take Shami’s name. The rest is obviously history.
Let’s go back to that conversation at the airport.
When it was time to board the plane, Akram realised he was travelling business class and Shami economy. Well, there are only so many business class seats on a domestic flight. Never mind, Shami thought. He requested the Indian team management to allow him to sit next to Akram. Thankfully, they agreed.
Again, Akram came straight to the point. He gave Shami an earful for ‘jogging’ towards the wicket. A fast bowler has to steam in, he reminded Shami. That apart, he emphasised the need for speed. Shami is known to bowl at 140 kph and above on a consistent basis. Akram told him that was his biggest strength. Make up your mind to bowl at 140 kph first. Then, learn to swing, cut and reverse the ball at that speed, he said. There’s no way, Akram told Shami, that he should compromise on pace.
Shami, who acknowledges Akram as his guru, paid heed to the advice. It’s common knowledge that it’s Akram who taught Shami how to reverse the old ball and maintain its shape. Interestingly, Shami had once revealed that Akram taught him a lot when it came to using the white ball. Lest we forget, Shami had a great time with the white ball in ODIs in 2014. In fact, he was among the highest wicket-takers in the 50-over game last year.
Shami has had a dream start to the World Cup. Against Pakistan in Adelaide, he picked up 4/35. Against South Africa in Melbourne, he returned figures of 2/30. That’s six wickets on two high-pressure games at an average of 10.83, economy rate of 3.82 and strike rate of 17. Yes, it’s still early days in the tournament but the point is that Shami is very much on the right track.
Against Pakistan, Shami got Younis Khan with a sharp bouncer in only his second over. He used the short ball to get rid of skipper Misbah-ul-Haq too. And in between, he forced Shahid Afridi to make room and heave at a thigh-high full toss. Afridi only managed a top edge which was duly taken by a running Virat Kohli. He also had Wahab Riaz caught behind. During his nine overs, Shami gave away just four boundaries.
Last Sunday, Shami produced a wicket maiden as early as the fourth over. His victim was the baby-faced assassin, Quinton de Kock, whose last three outings against India were all centuries. Shami bowled one just short of a length and all the left-hander could do was play a nothing drive into the hands of Kohli at mid-off. Towards the end of the innings, he got Dale Steyn. In between, he kept the pressure on by giving away a grand total of two boundaries.
Quite clearly, Shami has made up for the absence of Ishant Sharma. In fact, he has quietly assumed the role of the lead pacer. That’s how effective he has been. One noticeable aspect of his bowling is the intelligent use of the short ball. Against Pakistan, he went round the wicket to Misbah after claiming the wicket Younis early. The Shami of old — OK, not so old — would bowl pacy length balls and get clobbered. Now, thanks to Akram’s inputs, he is bringing his imagination to work. And the results are showing.