ICC World Cup: Will Mohammad Shami get a game in this edition?

The senior paceman, who scored a hat-trick against Afghanistan in 2019, deserved a go instead of Shardul Thakur yesterday

Indian cricketer Mohammed Shami (photo courtesy @Faisal4372/X)
Indian cricketer Mohammed Shami (photo courtesy @Faisal4372/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It will be a happy Indian squad heading for Ahmedabad for the big game against Pakistan on Saturday, 14 October. (Though their archrivals will be looking positive too.)

India's Big Two are among the runs, with Jasprit Bumrah looking as sharp as ever since his comeback from injury — even though the uncertainty over Shubman Gill’s availability for the next game continues. 

If there is one question that begs to be asked, it is: Why did the team management not think of giving senior paceman Mohammad Shami a go on a flat track against Afghanistan?

They replaced Ravi Ashwin — which is understandable, as the Arun Jaitley Stadium is a small ground and historically a belter — but to play Shardul Thakur instead of Shami was apparently based on the premise of adding batting depth. 

Now, it’s certainly a defensive mindset to opt for a batting all-rounder at number eight with such a line-up and on such a surface. At a time when part-time bowlers are becoming a liability in the 50-overs game with the new field restrictions and the batting surfaces on show in India, Team India’s reliance on a seaming all-rounder like Thakur is somewhat baffling however. Especially, since Hardik Pandya is now bowling full tilt again and can do the job of the sixth bowler if India go in with three pacers in the playing XI. 

With Bumrah back, there is also an argument of ‘team combination’ that is being put about to explain Shami’s exclusion.

However, the senior pro — who turned things around for India with a sensational hat-trick against the Afghans in the 2019 World Cup — has been used to stepping in for Bumrah for some time now. Last year, he was kept as a stand-by for the T20 World Cup, but turned out to be the go-to man at the eleventh hour when injury ruled Bumrah out. 

Then, in the three-match ODI series against Australia which served as a prelude to the World Cup, Bumrah was rested for the first two matches when Shami came in to grab his first five-wicket haul in Mohali.

There is little dispute on the Bumrah–Siraj combination being the first choice for a new ball attack at the moment; but should one think of going in with only two spinners, Shami ought to be an automatic choice as the third pacer to keep the pressure on, surely? 

It’s a long tournament, with hectic travel, and with key man Bumrah just coming out of recovery from his injury, hence it just makes common sense to keep Shami match-ready.

The legendary Sunil Gavaskar said on air after India’s announcement of the playing XI: ‘’It’s a difficult call, but I guess as a group, you are looking to try and give as many of your players (as possible) a little bit of an outing. And I would have thought (that) with what Mohammad Shami had done against (Afghanistan) in 2019, getting a hat-trick and turning the game in the way (he did), he would get a go — because it’s just a psychological thing.’’ 

The first week of the tournament saw most of the top teams — like defending champions England, as well as Australia and New Zealand — going in with a three-pronged pace attack.

It remains to be seen whether India follows suit…  

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