There is a certain romance to dealing with the history of acclaimed Indian fast bowlers. Be it Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh during the 1930s or Kapil Dev striking Sadiq Mohammad’s helmet in Pakistan in 1978 or the subsequent debuts of Javagal Srinath and much later Zaheer Khan, there is a frisson of excitement on sighting someone who can hurl the red cherry or the white ball at a zesty pace.
May be it is the land’s predisposition towards wristy batsmen and spinners that triggers a fascination for this alternate reality — the rare Indian speedster.
Over the last few months, Mohammad Shami has caused a stir. Be it the 11 wickets he snapped up against the West Indies in the recent Tests or the way he managed to keep his head and have figures of three for 52 in a run-fest ODI (709 runs were scored on that day) against Australia at Bangalore in November, Shami has caught the attention with his unflappable temperament and unerring lines topped with reverse swing.
Even in the current tour to South Africa, where he is a rookie when compared to the likes of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, it is Shami, who has emerged relatively unscathed so far.
With recent numbers like ‘three for 68’ and ‘three for 48’ that managed to marginally slow down the rampaging Proteas, the Uttar Pradesh-bred Bengal seamer has earned praise from the team’s think-tank and skipper M.S. Dhoni said: “I think what is crucial is the seam positioning. He bowls with the seam upright and he bowls the right line and length.
“That is very crucial. Even today (Sunday’s game against South Africa) when there was a bit of reverse swing he bowled the right length and that’s something very crucial wherever you are bowling. I think he has adapted very well. And the more he is playing the better he is getting, so that’s a big positive for us.”
With Zaheer set to lead the attack in the forthcoming Tests, Shami can be expected to strike a nice tandem with the senior pro. Surely there is room for hope though Indian cricket is littered with the flourish-flicker-and-fade nature of many seamers in recent times and it is a long list that has R.P. Singh, V.R.V. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel among others.
If 23-year-old Shami can largely stay away from that path of fitness and form issues, Indian cricket would be well served.