ICC World Cup: How Mohammed Shami fought off-field demons to bounce back

From fighting charges of domestic abuse to thoughts of ending it all — the senior pro has been there, done that

Shami hit his rhythm straightaway after coming in first change against England in Lucknow (photo: Getty Images)
Shami hit his rhythm straightaway after coming in first change against England in Lucknow (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

For someone who has been through as much in life as Mohammed Shami has, it’s not a big ask to warm the benches, biding his time. The Sahaspur Express proved it during India’s last two wins in their ongoing World Cup campaign — and is the talking point of India's bowling attack ahead of the match against Sri Lanka in Mumbai on Thursday.     

After claiming a five for 54 against New Zealand as he made the playing eleven in the wake of Hardik Pandya’s injury, Shami hit his rhythm straightaway after coming in first change against England in Lucknow, and simply wreaked havoc on a star-studded batting line-up.

He ended with four for 22 from his seven overs but more importantly, the way he tormented a performer like Ben Stokes in a space of 10 balls before castling him could certainly go down as a case study in sustained hostility in the history of the tournament. 

It had former England captain Michael Vaughan calling Stokes "amateurish", comparing Shami’s effort to the torrid over that Andrew Flintoff bowled to Ricky Ponting during the 2005 Ashes. A Wahab Riaz spell against Shane Watson in the 2015 World Cup also comes to mind — proving in no uncertain terms that the 33-year-old self-effacing Shami still has a lot of fire in his belly. 

Not really known for animated celebrations, the world saw a different Shami at Lucknow's Ekana Stadium. It was as though he was issuing a strong reminder to reassess his overall contribution to the 50-over World Cup, a tournament in which he is now India’s third highest wicket taker ever, with 40 wickets in 13 innings — only Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan are ahead of him with 44 wickets apiece. A tally which Shami is expected to better in the three remaining league games and the knockout stages, since it is now nearly impossible to keep him out of the eleven.  

Shane Watson, a member of the multiple World Cup-winning Australian squad, was effusive in his praise after the England game. “When Shami is at his best, as we saw against England, he’s just so difficult to play. He can beat any batter on the outside or the inside. And because his length is so accurate, it’s always hitting the stumps. He’s always in there asking questions.

"It was unfortunate that Hardik went down injured. But that meant that Shami got an opportunity, and for me, he's surpassed Siraj because of the way he’s been bowling,” the star allrounder said. 

The journey has not been easy for Shami during an international career spanning over a decade — starting with a career-threatening knee surgery after a highly impressive World Cup debut in 2015.

Barely two weeks before the current World Cup began on 5 October, Shami had to show up in a Kolkata court to appeal for bail, thanks to an FIR filed by his estranged wife Hasin Jahan in 2018 alleging domestic abuse. 

Shami, who first drew attention as a rookie fast bowler from Bengal, was living in Kolkata when the bust-up with his wife created an uproar in the media. The last five years have not been easy, as he had his BCCI central contract withheld for a while once the allegations became public, and was on the run after an arrest warrant was issued in 2019 before the World Cup in England. 

During an Instagram video chat with Rohit Sharma when the Covid pandemic took root in early 2020, Shami dropped a bombshell when he confided that he had contemplated suicide thrice owing to the stress in his personal life. ‘’My two-three friends used to stay with me for 24 hours. My parents asked me to focus on cricket to recover from that phase and not think about anything else. I started training then and sweated it out a lot at an academy in Dehra Dun,’’ he had said. 

Catch-the-match (Thursday) 

India vs Sri Lanka 

Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai 

Match starts at 2.00 pm 

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