Adversity and tough times test people’s character, either making or breaking them. Indian spearhead Mohammed Shami is a perfect example that when life gets difficult, you have to work harder and come out stronger. He has been the backbone of India’s fast bowling for the last decade and has hit red-hot form in the ongoing World Cup, having taken 14 wickets in just 3 games and helping India march into the semis undefeated. Initially in this edition, Siraj was preferred over Shami as the first-choice seamer. But Pandya’s injury became a blessing in disguise for Team India as they rediscovered the ingenious Shami.
In his last 4 matches, he has been on an absolute wicket-taking spree picking up 19 wickets, including three 5-wicket hauls. Shami has been so dominant that it has helped India demolish their last two oppositions – England and Sri Lanka for 129 and 55 respectively! In the process, Shami has become India’s leading ODI World Cup wicket-taker with 45 wickets in just 14 matches with a stunning average of 12.91.
But his journey has not always been this magical. Shami started off as a sharp, pacy prospect in the post-Zaheer Khan era and his fine performances in the 2012-13 Ranji season propelled him to the Indian team. Shami made his ODI debut against Pakistan in 2013. His brilliance shone through in that match as he helped India to a win with an economical spell whereby, he became the first Indian to bowl 4 or more maidens on debut. Unfortunately, after a couple of successful seasons, Shami’s career was marred by injuries.
Shami was the leading wicket-taker for India in the 2015 World Cup in Australia. But after the tournament, it was discovered that he played through the World Cup and a series before that with a knee injury. It kept him out of the game for a while and it was a testament to Shami’s dedication to the team and country that he gave it his all even amid severe injuries.
Moreover, it was a tough phase for him on a personal level too as his wife accused him of domestic violence and match-fixing, leading to his central contract being put on hold by the BCCI. Ultimately, the contract was reinstated and the allegations were cleared but it impacted Shami to such an extent that he felt like committing suicide, as he revealed in an Instagram live to Rohit Sharma.
In the interim, India had discovered another fast-bowling gem in Jasprit Bumrah which diminished Shami’s importance further during the 2017-2018 period. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going and Shami worked hard on his fitness, both mental and physical, to come back as India’s premier bowler in the 2019 World Cup in England. Apart from World Cup’s first hat-trick, he also won a tense match against Afghanistan, eventually picking up 14 wickets in just 4 matches with an average of just 13.78.
Trying times test you more often than not as an international cricketer. When India had a horrid 2021 T20 World Cup and couldn’t qualify for the knockouts, the Indian public was upset with the team’s loss to Pakistan by 10 wickets. Abuses were hurled against Shami on religious lines, prompting Kohli to take on the social media trolls aggressively and backing Shami to the hilt during that low phase. While Kohli seemingly paid for his morally upright stance the results of his support and inspiration are now all too evident to be seen.
Shami’s career has taken off in the last two years. The trolling after his poor display in the T20 World Cup appears to have pushed him to discover his best. It seems like his personal traumas have made him a far tougher human being with a stronger resolve to excel. Over the past year, in the absence of Bumrah, he has been the spearhead of India’s pace battery and a vital force in propelling India to reach the World Test Championship finals.
What stands out in his glorious career is his consistency in performances. Even in IPL 2023, he won the Purple Cap with the most wickets; 28 for Gujarat Titans. A mainstay as well as instrumental in Gujarat’s IPL success in the first couple of seasons, Shami’s success has been possible due to his remarkable skillset. His accuracy and seam movement are highly talked about by even legendary pacers like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis praising the seam control that Shami presents along with his ability to make the ball nip after pitching.
Now, the way Shami has been bagging wickets in the World Cup, it looks as if the cricketing Gods have finally showered their blessings on him. Being kept out of Playing XI in the first few matches appears to have given him greater motivation to do well. He’s at the peak of his prowess since he has learnt how to handle the pressure of public and personal expectations, using this pressure to drive himself to higher honours and greater glory.
The way Indian fast bowlers are gunning the opposition down, this World Cup might just be remembered for their brilliant spells. If India attains the ultimate glory, Shami might well be the poster boy of that triumph!