Twinning at the World Cup: If Jasprit Bumrah doesn't get you, Mohammed Shami will
Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah operating in tandem is a throwback to the pairing of Walsh-Ambrose, Wasim-Waqar, McGrath-Lee, Srinath-Zaheer.
For the first four matches of the World Cup 2023, he watched from the outer. He played the consummate team man, always available with a word of advice, ready with a smile, happy to play his part in whatever way was possible when he wasn't playing. If he was chomping at the bit or feeling frustrated at having to warm the bench, Mohammed Shami did a great job of hiding it.
Then, the unseen hand of fate came to rest benevolently on his shoulder. An unfortunate injury to Hardik Pandya necessitated a rethink in strategy, and India's team management was forced to jettison its desire to artificially extend the batting order as it plumped for specialists. Pandya's temporary exit took Shardul Thakur out of the equation, Suryakumar Yadav slotting in at No. 6 and Shami coming in for Thakur to lend greater teeth and potency to the bowling group.
Shami has responded admirably to the changed dynamics. In two matches, against New Zealand in Dharamsala and England in Lucknow, he has snaffled nine wickets – average 8.44, economy 4.47, strike-rate 11.33. Among the top 15 wicket-takers, no one has a better average or strike-rate and only Jasprit Bumrah, his partner-in-crime, has a better economy (3.91).
Shami is no stranger to the big league. Of the five Indian quicks in the 15-man squad for the World Cup, he is the most experienced, having first played for the country towards the end of 2013. He was one of the prime forces behind India’s charge to the semifinals of the 2015 World Cup (in Australia and New Zealand) and the 2019 edition (in England); he boasts 433 international wickets, including a staggering 180 in 96 One-Day Internationals. It couldn’t have been easy for him to sit out and bide his time, team balance or not.
The felicity with which he has slipped into wicket-taking mode on his recall to the side is a tribute to his physical and mental readiness. When he was not playing, Shami didn’t allow the grass to grow under his feet, keeping himself fresh mentally and primed technically. He has lent the cutting edge the fast-bowling group was missing somewhat, what with Mohammed Siraj a little off-colour and Thakur nowhere near being a full-time, wicket-taking pace threat.
Shami and Bumrah are an exceptional new-ball pairing in Test cricket, though in the limited-overs game, the more experienced quick is more comfortable operating with a slightly older ball. His innate understanding of pitches and game situations, allied with his decade-long taste of the sport at the highest level, are irreplaceable qualities that Rohit Sharma has belatedly been able to summon during a campaign that has netted India six wins on the bounce. It will be impossible, going forward, for the think-tank to overlook Shami’s credentials, given not just his own incisiveness but also the excellent tandem he forms with Bumrah.
Until Bumrah's emergence at the beginning of 2016 in white-ball internationals and two years later at the Test level, Shami was the undisputed leader of the pace pack. But once the younger man established himself as an all-weather wicket-taking threat, Shami was happy to play second fiddle, not allowing his ego to come in the way. Bumrah and Shami feed off each other, exchanging notes and working as a unit to plot batters' downfall. Together, they have been happy to take the others, such as Siraj and Prasidh Krishna, Mukesh Kumar and Arshdeep Singh and Thakur, under their wing, sharing their vast knowledge and wisdom and delighted to play the mentoring role that was once the domain of Javagal Srinath and, after him, Zaheer Khan.
On Sunday at the Ekana International Cricket Stadium, the pressure was on Bumrah and Shami to make early inroads with India defending only a modest 229 for nine. Since Pandya's unavailability, India have had to make do with only five bowlers, therefore it was imperative for them to provide early breakthroughs, made even more non-negotiable because the dew would set in at some stage and make life difficult for the two spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja.
Bumrah set the tone with the wickets of Dawid Malan and Joe Root in his third over, but Shami wasn’t too far behind. Brought on in the sixth over with Siraj leaking runs, he evicted Ben Stokes with his 12th delivery after torturing the left-hander no end, then produced a searing breakback to pack off Jonny Bairstow with his 13th. It was electric, it was exhilarating. It was an exhibition for the ages; it was as if, if Bumrah doesn't get you, Shami will. What a sight.
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