On Tuesday at SuperSport Park in Centurion, Mohammed Shami became only the fifth Indian fast bowler to reach 200 Test wickets, scything through the South African batting line-up and claiming 5/44 from 16 overs. Kagiso Rabada was his 200th scalp.
About a couple of months ago, after India’s T20 World Cup loss to Pakistan, the fast bowler was at the receiving end of deplorable social media abuse, targeting his religion. Only his captain, Virat Kohli, publicly stood by him then. On a fair-weather day, adulation poured in.
— Ravi Shastri (@RaviShastriOfc) December 28, 2021
Shami has seen several ups and downs in life and cricket. Injuries had forced him to the brink of retirement. Last year, during an Instagram Live session with Rohit Sharma, the 31-year-old revealed that he had considered killing himself three times during a period of “severe stress and personal problems”. The equanimity he showed after reaching the landmark, in his 55th Test, bordered on matter-of-factly.
“Mein toh line pakad ke rakha tha (I was bowling on a consistent line),” he told reporters. “Pace doesn’t matter much in modern-day cricket. My focus is always on hitting the right area. Today also, I just targeted the right areas,” he elaborated.
He kept it simple. “Test cricket is not rocket science. But to play Test cricket you have to know the conditions and adjust your line and length accordingly. It rained yesterday. It was different today. The pitch had the zip. It was imperative to hit the right area and control your line and length. I was hitting the right length,” said Shami.
5️⃣-wicket haul in testing conditions means a happy bowling coach 🙂
A special interview 📽️ between the duo coming up on https://t.co/Z3MPyesSeZ 🙌
— BCCI (@BCCI) December 28, 2021
More than a decade ago, when he started his journey in club cricket in Kolkata, 200 Test scalps obviously weren’t on his mind. “When you are a kid, when you are a struggler, the only dream you harbour is to play for India and play alongside those whom you watch on TV and idolise. You work hard to achieve your goal. It’s about working hard, which is in your hands. And when you put in an honest effort, you get the result,” said the fast bowler, paying a glowing tribute to his father Tousif Ali. “I came from a place (Amroha, Uttar Pradesh) where even today facilities are limited. Every day I had to travel 30 kilometres and my father used to accompany me. So all credit goes to my father and my brother.”
Today was another occasion when Indian fast bowlers polished off opposition batting in quick time, in 62.3 overs. The upsurge of fast bowling has been the biggest contributing factor to the team’s success overseas. “This is the result of the hard work that the boys have put in over the last six-seven years. The support staff is there to support. It’s not possible to single out an individual. But (real credit) goes to the boys, who have worked their socks off. He who works hard, credit goes to him.”
Midway into South Africa’s innings, Jasprit Bumrah twisted his ankle and left the field. The onus fell on Shami to spearhead India’s pace attack and he helped his team secure a 130-run first-innings lead. “Obviously, when one of the bowlers from your unit leaves the field, some extra pressure comes on you. It stays in the back of your mind. In any case, you have to bowl long spells in Test cricket and we are playing with five bowlers. So we could manage that well,” said Shami, allaying fears about Bumrah’s injury. “He is OK. He came back, fielded and bowled.”
Typically, the upright seam was the standout feature in Shami’s bowling, courtesy of his wrist position, which he has worked on. “Once again, it’s down to hard work,” Shami signed off.