“Shami was a bit angry but didn’t express it” The coach Mohammad Badruddin recalls how he could sense that his student Mohammad Shami was a touch angry about his initial non-selection to the T20 world cup squad but he never said much. Badruddin, like the rest of the world, noticed how Shami celebrated the wickets of Pakistan’s Iftikhar Ahmed, who was threatening to blow away India with a fiery cameo, and Bangladesh’s Najmul Shanto, on resumption after rain break in a thriller. Clenched fists, contorting face, and a huge roar escaping his lips tell a story of his game-changing value to the team and his own personal struggles.
A story from the coach captures Shami’s preparation even when it seemed he might not make it to the team. But first the recent context. After an average T20 world cup last year, despite a stellar performance in the IPL, he wasn’t considered. And when he was finally given a chance, Covid stuck him, and he couldn’t play. Only when Jasprit Bumrah was injured, he moved past the other contenders to find a spot in the world-cup squad. But through his anger, he was working on improving his bowling.
He wanted to master one bowling trait: how to land yorkers in dew under lights when he wasn’t able to grip it as well as he would like. At his farm, in his village Sahaspur Alinagar lying midway between Amroha and Moradabad, where he has cricket pitches laid with floodlights, he would call his coach to the training sessions.
“We kept around ten wet balls and he used to bowl non-stop. Wet ball is hard to grip, it’s where skills come handy. Shami must on an average used to bowl hundred odd balls daily to perfect his art. Look now, he is doing well in that too,” his coach reveals,” the coach Badruddin says. The Bangladesh offered proof. On resumption after rain, Shami, who had given 21 runs in his first spell of two overs which included a 16-run over, struck with his first ball to Shanto. It was Adelaide, but it was Sahaspur in some ways.
“He has a few acres of land. And if there are no crops grown, he brings a tractor and resurfaces the whole mud. Shami will run for hours, he still does, he is not the one, who believes much in the gym, for him running is key,” his childhood coach Badruddin said. Shami has two full fledged pitches made for him. One is slow and one is fast.
With no place for his three sons to train, Shami’s father Tousif, a third-generation ‘Pradhan’ who ran a spare tractor parts shop, had poured cement in his field to prepare a pitch, albeit with a short run-up. His younger brother Kaif had once told this newspaper about how Shami would bowl for hours on that pitch. “He would keep bowling non-stop. Break tabhi milta jab ball peeche kaanton mein ya jhaadi mein chali jaati (There was a break only if the ball when into the thorns or bushes behind).”
So when Shami knew he was not flying with the Indian squad, he kept on training on that pitch.
“He was very hopeful he will be selected as T20 world cup was in Australia. Those pitches suit his bowling. He was upset when the selection didn’t happen but never showed it. He went on playing or being at NCA, or here at his farm, toiling away on the pitch. I would tell him that it’s my gut feeling that he would play the world cup; he would blush and stay silent. See now he is playing!” Says the happy coach.
Shami kept posting videos of him at his backyard on the social media. He will talk about his training after the game against Bangladesh. “As and when the team requires, you will get the call, is what we are always told. If you have seen my videos, I am never out of practice and I always continue with my training,” Shami said.
For a bowler, who has been labelled to be suited more for red ball cricket. Shami has made the adjustments to transform into white ball bowler. He says that it is not easy to switch from one format.
“It’s about how well you are connected with the team and how well you bond with them. I am playing T20Is after the last World T20 and I agree that a player needs confidence and flow, more than the colour of the ball. I am always ready.
He doesn’t take anything for granted these days. “If you see me in matches, I am always bowling with a new ball but when it comes to practice, I normally choose semi new or old ball. If you get that benefit during the game, it’s good. Just that you need confidence that you can execute it in match situation,” he said.
“When the ball gets wet, there are 50 things that play on your mind, whether you will be perfectly able to execute your plans or not,” he replies. “I always believe that you should have faith in your skill sets, and in these situations, you need to remain calm, and years of experience comes in handy.” So far, for Shami and India, it has come more than handy at the biggest stage.