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Why this could be the summer of Shami

by Sarah Waris 5 minute read

Mohammed Shami possesses a poor record against England in England, but there is hope that he can change his luck in the upcoming five-match Test series, writes Sarah Waris.

“Oh, wretched luck!” is an oft-quoted adage that does the rounds every time a sports star fails to convert their years of toil into an extraordinary moment of magic. Despite all their continued efforts and potential, the absence of days when things just seem to fall into place can often be the difference between stardom and despair.

Just ask Mohammed Shami. Blessed with a seam position that deceives the best of players, and equipped with a powerful gallop, the India quick threatens to pick up a wicket with every ball till he doesn’t. Thrilling fans with his probing lengths, Shami’s career could have transcended further into greatness if only he had been dealt a friendlier hand.

Not that 184 wickets at 27.57 after 51 games is below par. The quick is 15th on the list of most Tests wickets taken by all bowlers since his debut. Only two bowlers — Mitchell Starc and Kagiso Rabada — with more wickets have a better strike rate than him in this period, and no other Indian fast bowler has as many scalps since his debut, which came in November 2013.

Yet, there is reason to ponder over the what-ifs.

On day three of the World Test Championship final against New Zealand, Shami impressed with his accuracy but did not return with a single wicket. He could have had Devon Conway and Tom Latham in the space of a few overs but was unfortunate to see outside edges fly over the fielder’s reach on both occasions. A few deliveries later, an inside edge sneaked past the stumps as the topic of Shami’s luck in England, or the lack of it, soon started trending.

In the United Kingdom, the bowler averages 43.80 in nine Tests, which is the worst among all countries that he has played in. The fact that Shami does not average more than 36 in any other country piques interest. Is it thus, really terrible bowling in the country, or is there more to it?

According to Cricviz, Shami was one of the best Indian bowlers during the 2018 series against England in England. Though he averaged 38.87 — the highest among all bowlers from the visiting team — he induced as many as 272 false shots, 66 more than second-best Ishant Sharma. Twenty-six per cent of his deliveries saw a miss or an edge, and only 55% of the chances off his bowling were taken. Overall, there were five dropped catches when Shami was bowling, and the helplessness was evident when the bowler summed up the series by saying, “It depends on luck sometimes. As a bowler your main target is to hit good areas consistently. Whether that yields wickets depends on luck. But it is frustrating.”

A similar conclusion was reached by the commentators during the game between India and New Zealand earlier this year. Shami extracts bounce and his seam position is on point, yet he somehow seems to fall short.

In the WTC Final, Shami was bursting with energy as edges flew over gully and slip. He sent down bouncers, forced the batters to play and miss, and conceded just 19 runs in his first 11 overs, with four maidens.

He ruffled Latham with a short-of-length delivery that straightened to take a thick outside edge in just the third ball of his spell in New Zealand’s first innings. He drew the opener into a forward defence with a good length delivery and went on to trouble Conway with one that rose more than the the left-hander anticipated. Some kicked on and ballooned out of reach while a few squared up the batsmen after the ball angled in.

Shami tested Kane Williamson with balls that curved back in and surprised him by getting deliveries on the seam to rise. Ross Taylor was beaten on the outside edge as the ball jagged off the seam and sent down a snorter of a bouncer to Conway that had the batsman play a mistimed shot to short mid-wicket.

Not a single wicket.

The Indian, who relishes bowling on the right area ball after ball, which prompts the batters to play every delivery, was the most expensive quick from both sides in the WTC final, conceding runs at 2.90 an over. Though he did pick up four wickets, the tally could, and should, have been higher. If only…

Bad luck is a part of Shami’s, prompting naysayers to question his role and spot in the team. Not many will see that he sent down 36.5 overs, the third-most in the WTC final, keeping his hopes up despite his rotten luck and frustration. Not many will credit his increased fitness and stamina levels, which saw him being featured fourth on the Boost Stamina Meter, for his average of 20.97 since the start of 2019. Not many will overlook the economy rate column, but the ones who do will know that runs have never bothered him as much as bowling accurately, and perfectly.

“The only sure thing about luck is that it will change.”

It will, for Shami, and the upcoming England tour could be just the turnaround.

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