World Cup semis: Did Shami, Shreyas turn anger into on-field magic?

The highest wicket taker of the tournament had to sit out the first four games while Iyer believed he was on a media trial

Cricketers Shreyas Iyer (left) and Mohammed Shami (photos: @ShreyasIyer15/X and @DelhiPolice/X)
Cricketers Shreyas Iyer (left) and Mohammed Shami (photos: @ShreyasIyer15/X and @DelhiPolice/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Is it latent anger which drove Mohammed Shami and Shreyas Iyer to shine in the latter half of India’s dream campaign in the ongoing ICC World Cup? A hypothetical question, more so since anger doesn’t count for much in this particular sport, but it could have surely fired their egos to extract some stirring performances. 

A day after India kept their date with the final and Virat Kohli became the first batter to score 50 ODI centuries, the paeans are still on overdrive. In a country blessed with a lineage of batting icons like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, and Rohit Sharma, idolatry comes naturally, even if sometimes at the cost of losing sight of the team’s cause. 

It’s in this context that Iyer’s breezy innings of 105 at a strike rate of 150.00, his second successive century, was even more crucial than Kohli’s record-breaking ton as it provided the hosts a critical cushion of those 70-odd runs in the end. The 28-year-old, who was a doubtful starter for the showpiece with a lingering back injury, became the third Indian batter after Kohli and Sharma to complete 500 runs in the tournament. 

However, the start to the tournament was far from promising for Iyer, who perished to an impetuous drive against Australia in their opening game and fell for a duck. The talk over the next three to four games, when the number four was getting off to good starts before falling to poor shot selection, was all about his weakness against the short-pitched stuff. 

“I didn’t perform well in 1-2 matches at the start of the World Cup. I was getting the starts but wasn’t able to convert them into big ones. But if you look at it (the stats), I was not out against Afghanistan and Pakistan and then I had two bad innings," was Iyer's candid explanation in a chat with Star Sports in Mumbai on Wednesday night. 

"Then, people started saying that he has a problem. Inside, I was very angry, I was not showing it, but I knew my time would come and then I’d prove myself. And it has come now, at the right time," he added. 

This was not the first time Iyer vented his anger against the media, because he had once taken on a journalist over a question about his apparent weakness in executing the pull shot.    

The scenario was rather different for Shami, who preferred the ball to do the talking and has become the flavour of the Indian attack. A little over three weeks ago, the senior pro of the Indian pace attack was biding his time on the reserve benches as India won their first four matches on the trot and the team management was averse to changing a winning combination. 

The unfortunate injury to Hardik Pandya opened the doors for Shami in the fifth league game against New Zealand in Dharamsala, and he was on the money from the word go — finishing with a haul of 5 for 54 to win the player of the match on his first bow. The rest, as they say, was history. 

A reticent man who has been through several ups and downs in life, Shami was part of the playing eleven only intermittently in the Asia Cup in September, while the writing was on the ball that a younger Mohammed Siraj would get the nod ahead of him after the latter packed off Sri Lanka with a haul of 6/21 in the tournament final.  

Still, all Shami said after his Dharamsala fifer — the first of his three in the cup so far — was: ‘’I know the importance of team combination and what players are needed for a particular match. I can contribute from the bench as well. There is no need to think about it, the team is more important.’’  

A 10-0 winning sequence masks a lot of things — such as the team management’s decision to persist with someone like Shardul Thakur, ostensibly for his abilities to bat at number eight, at the expense of Shami. Better sense has thankfully prevailed, proving a gamechanger in India’s campaign. 

Over then, to Ahmedabad…   

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