India’s Mohammed Shami
India’s Mohammed Shami celebrates with Mohammad Siraj and KL Rahul after taking the wicket of New Zealand’s Rachin Ravindra in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 match at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, Dharamsala, India, on October 22, 2023. Shami claimed a five-wicket haul that prevented a late assault by Kiwi batters. Image Credit: Reuters

The sight on Mohammed Shami on the Indian bench has been heart-wrenching. He’s such a class act that it begs the question, why would India drop him? It required an injury to Hardik Pandya for Shami to find a place in the playing XI. That’s due to the surfeit of talent, India’s coaches said.

Shami’s talent was too good to ignore. In his first match in the Cricket World Cup 2023, he showed what the Indian team was missing. Against the might of New Zealand, not only did Shami provide the early breakthrough, the 33-year-old also employed his bag of tricks in the slog overs to prevent New Zealand from posting a massive score.

In the previous games, India struggled in the third Powerplay as Mohammad Siraj tended to spray the ball around. Contrast that to Shami’s masterclass against the Kiwis, where he unveiled his repertoire of pinpoint yorkers, slower deliveries and sharp bouncers.

How Shami affects India’s team balance

Why didn’t India play him earlier? Apparently the question was put to the team management, including chief coach Rahul Dravid and bowling coach Paras Mhambrey. They were fully convinced of Shami’s ability but said the tough decision of dropping Shami had to be taken to maintain the balance of the side.

Pandya worked as the third seamer with good success. What about the fourth seamer slot? India preferred to field Shardul Thakur, who can chip in with the bat. Yes, it’s his batting that tilted the scales.

As an allrounder Thakur occupies the No. 8 slot. Do India really need him to score runs in that position? It actually betrays a lack of trust in the specialist batters. And if the top seven batters can’t score, how do you expect a No. 8 to fetch the runs. When was the last time Indian required a batter in that position to get runs.

Some pundits point to the 2019 World Cup, when India fell short chasing England’s 337 in Birmingham. The top-order batters got runs, but they were unable to finish the job. And critics blamed the lack of batting depth, when the bowlers should have panned for not doing their primary job well.

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Let’s get back to Shami and Thakur.

Thakur is a handy batter. As a bowler he is capable of breaking partnerships and can bag a couple of wickets in a match. That’s it; he won’t bag a fiver. Being the fourth seamer, rival batters also target Thakur to lift the scoring, which allows him to pick wickets.

Thakur is not an incisive bowler, while Shami will be on anyone’s list of top three pacers in India. When the team is chasing the World Cup, it makes sense to play the best bowlers. Shami is one.

After all, bowlers win matches. Shami did just that in Dharamsala.