INDIA TOUR OF ENGLAND, 2018
Shami tortured the England batsmen, but finished with figures of 22-7-43-0 © AFP
There’s only so much one can do as a bowler. Get the wrist position right to release the seam the way you want. Ensure you’re fit enough to make it as fast as you intend it to be. And then pitch the ball in the right place.
The rest, everything after that, is only hoping for things to go your way. The pitch, the batsman, the ball, the fielders, maybe a helpful breeze. It usually all comes together for the odd ball, especially if you keep doing the stuff you should be doing right. But there are times when despite all you do, the stars just don’t align.
Mohammed Shami’s stars were in that mood on Friday. The right-armer, despite having odds stacked against him, bowled a remarkable spell in the post-Lunch sessions, but only came back with a moral victory over the batsmen. However, Shami’s spectacular spell opened that little window India were desperate for. It showed that there was some spice still left on the wicket, and if India were to get a bit of luck, they could claw back in.
And when they did get that bit of luck, they stormed back into the game, so much so that they had England reeling at 198/7 by the end of the day.
In many ways, it showed why this Indian bowling attack should not be written off. When there was nothing happening off the pitch, the bowlers kept things extremely tight. England hardly looked alarmed, but there was not one phase when they could’ve claimed full dominance over the bowlers. By lunch, India had bowled 28 overs, with only one wicket to celebrate, but had given away only 68 runs. It allowed them to keep attacking even after the break.
Shami had been brought back into the attack after a largely unremarkable first spell in the first session. In fact, all the Indian bowlers were, on a pitch that offered them little and against a team that was content to be in its shell. But he had just seen two great spells from his pace partners – Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah – before coming on.
The pair was tight, and luckless as catches were dropped. Shami needed to not only keep up the pressure by not conceding too many, but also breakthrough before England broke out of the shackles.
And what he put out was an exhibition in seam bowling. According to CricViz, Shami induced close to 21% false shots on the day. That’s one almost every over, and in the second session he hit his peak, proving to be unplayble on numerous occasions.
After a lacklustre first two overs, Shami hit the straps. Off his next six overs, he had the batsmen – mostly Moeen Ali – playing and missing 18 times, that is once every two balls. It was not just one type of delivery that the batsmen had problems with, too. He would consistently get it to leave the left-handers before bring one bursting back in. Unluckily for him, the edge was never to be found.
But as he was taken off the attack, Shami had not only dented the batsmen’s confidence, but had also sowed seeds of oh-my-the-ball-is-doing-all-sorts-of-things into the batsman’s heads. 9 overs, 14 runs and a lot of problems to the opposition.
And as it so often happens, it’s the other bowlers who reaped the rewards of Shami’s industriousness and skill. Jasprit Bumrah came on after Tea, and had Alastair Cook, playing his final Test and until then steely-determined to make it count, inside edging onto the stumps.
England had played 63 overs until then, but for only 133 runs. The wicket almost restored parity. Bumrah got the next to slant across Joe Root, and the England captain was plumb LBW. Jonny Bairstow’s tentative poke resulted in another duck in the series, while Moeen finally ran out of luck after getting to his fifty. Ben Stokes and Sam Curran departed in quick succession too, and England spiraled down rapidly towards a batting disaster.
Ravindra Jadeja, in his press interaction after the day, said how India’s plans when wickets weren’t falling were to stay patient and hope for England to try and force the issue. On a pitch that was heavily in favour of the batsmen, it was a plan that worked to perfection for India.
Perhaps the one thing that did not go India’s way was Mohammed Shami’s eventual figures. Even towards the end, luck did not go in his favour, with Jos Buttler being reprieved from being given out LBW after UltraEdge picked up a faint inside edge, one that even the batsman had missed.
But Shami, despite not having the number to back the fact, played a massive part in India’s stunning show with the ball after a tepid first half. The visitors will only hope that he can add the wickets that he so undeservingly missed out.