ICC World Cup: Time to give Mohammed Shami the respect he deserves

Senior pro's Player of the Match show has put team management in a bigger quandary

India's Mohammed Shami rises to third-highest wicket-taker in World Cup history (photo: @MdShami11/X)
India's Mohammed Shami rises to third-highest wicket-taker in World Cup history (photo: @MdShami11/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

That Mohammed Shami received the ICC Player of the Match award after India’s hard-earned win against New Zealand last night showed a decision to let cricketing logic take precedence over everything else.

Yes, Virat Kohli fell five runs short of a landmark, where he could have touched Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI centuries, and young Rachin Ravindra showed he had the makings of a fine all-rounder for the Black Caps. 

However, both Kohli's and Ravindra’s time will come again in this World Cup — while one is not so sure about Shami, arguably India’s finest pace bowler in the transition period between Zaheer Khan and the blooming of Jasprit Bumrah. If not for Hardik Pandya’s freak ankle injury in the last game and the helpful conditions at Dharamsala, which called for beefing up the pace attack with more quality, the man who is now the third-highest wicket taker for India in the 50-overs showpiece (36 wickets) may have continued to warm the benches. 

There is now a week’s gap before India’s next game against England in Lucknow on 29 October, and if Pandya is ruled fit, then the all-rounder is certain to come back in place of Surya Kumar Yadav. Will the team management then persist with Sunday’s trio of Bumrah–Siraj–Shami after the latter’s dramatic haul of 5/54, which stopped the Kiwis at least 30-40 runs short of a par score? Or will they fall back on Shardul Thakur again for the so-called additional batting prowess? 

The speculation has begin in right earnest as Lucknow’s Ekana Stadium, India’s next venue, is known to be slow, with a dual bounce — which makes a case for Ravi Ashwin as the additional spinner. However, it’s unlikely that Shami will be perturbed about any such guesswork after spending a decade in international cricket — and having seen many a high and low in both his professional and personal lives. 

Barely two years back, during the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE, Shami had taken some pasting from the in-form Pakistan duo of Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan in their opening group league game, where India slumped to a rare 10-wicket loss. None of the bowlers, including Bumrah, had covered themselves in glory under the perfect batting conditions there, but Shami was singled out for severe trolling on the basis of his religion.  

Then again, in the run-up to last year’s World T20 in Australia, Shami was kept on stand-by despite being in fine fettle in white-ball cricket and received a call-up only after Bumrah’s injury.

The 33-year-old from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh, whose easygoing demeanour often masks the steel inside him, has come back stronger each time.      

Only two matches ago, against Afghanistan, a country against whom Shami had got a hat-trick in the 2019 edition, a number of TV pundits were unanimous that he ought to have been given a go in view of his track record. Ravi Shastri, the India team’s last head coach, felt that Shami should get some more match time, even if it was just to have him primed to step in for anyone who might get injured in such a long tournament. 

It happened soon enough — and Shami was back with the ball in hand, and the same fire in his belly.

A wicket off the first ball to get rid of opener Will Young certainly helped him to hit the rhythm — he was even more lethal in his second spell, with the yorkers also coming together.

For the record, he is also the first and the only Indian bowler to have two five-wicket hauls in the World Cup. 

What next for Shami? We will have to wait and watch…           

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