Mohammed Shami
India's Mohammed Shami celebrates a New Zealand dismissal during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup semifinal at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, India, on November 16, 2023. His haul of 7-57 helped India enter the final. Image Credit: ANI

Seam. That’s what makes Mohammed Shami so deadly. The Indian pacer has the best seam presentation in world cricket. And it works wonders. The ball lands on its seam and deviates past flailing bats, occasionally taking the edge. That’s when Shami leaps in joy and whoops with delight.

Shami’s celebrations have become a regular feature of Indian victories. His best came against New Zealand in the semifinal, when he scalped seven. In the last six matches, he’s claimed 23 wickets, making him the leading wicket-taker in the Cricket World Cup. To think that he didn’t find a place in the Playing XI initially is beyond comprehension.

It took an injury to Hardik Pandya for India to give Shami playing time. Oh boy, did he deliver? Shami did, and he has been a regular in the side since. His World Cup tally has swelled to 54 as he pursues Australia’s Glen McGrath (71) and Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan (68). It could have been much more if Shami was selected for the first four games. Along the way, he became the fastest with 50 wickets.

Stats, there are more. But none lends justice to the quality of bowling. Shami keeps it simple. He works the seam, and the movement fetches wickets. Like the one that took Devon Conway’s edge on Wednesday. And the one that feathered Rachin Ravindra’s blade. The best was the nip-backer that caught Tom Latham in front. By then, he had shifted the momentum in India’s way.

Shami’s darkest moment in Wankhede

In between, Shami went through a gut-wrenching moment, spilling a Kane Williamson catch when the Kiwis threatened to take control. A time when panic seemed to sweep through the Indian ranks, and silence enveloped the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The skier burst through Shami’s fingers. Jasprit Bumrah put a hand to his mouth, and the 33,000 in the stands dropped their hands into their heads. Millions more in front of television sets let out a collective sigh of exasperation.

Did Shami drop the World Cup? The 36-year-old answered it in the only manner he knows: taking wickets. A double strike and the match needle swung in India’s favour as Williamson and Latham made their way to the pavilion in the space of three balls. After that there was no stopping Shami as he returned his best ODI figures (7-57), including his third five-wicket haul in six games.

That’s Shami at his best. He may be a seam bowler, but he can work even in adverse conditions. And importantly, his never-say-die attitude helps find wickets.

Inexplicably, Shami has never been a first-choice bowler for India in white-ball cricket. As a result, he hasn’t played many One-Day Internationals. Even for the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia, Shami wasn’t an automatic inclusion. Finally, he made the team after Bumrah failed to recover from his back injury.

The Indian selectors have only to look at Shami’s performance for Gujarat Titans to get an idea of his incisive bowling in the Indian Premier League. In the past two seasons, he has spearheaded the Titans’ attack with a bag full of wickets.

It was again the seam at work. Shami trusts the seam to bamboozle batters. He doesn’t bowl too many with the scrambled seam, preferring to pitch the ball up so that the straight seam can work his magic. It’s difficult to drive to him as it’s not overpitched and you can’t pull and cut him either since the balls aren’t short enough. A tentative prod elicits the edge, and it’s time for Shami to be airborne in celebration.

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Shami resorts to the slower ones when he returns for the middle-overs, that’s when his variations come into play. He tends to uncork his pinpoint yorkers only in the slog overs. So it isn’t easy to take him for runs, although Daryl Mitchell stepped out to hit him for sixes when New Zealand were trying to keep up with the asking rate. But that’s bound to fail at some point as Williamson and Mitchell found out.

When you want wickets, call Shami. That seems to be Indian captain Rohit Sharma’s mantra. It has worked well. If India go on to win the World Cup, Shami would be a hot contender for the Player of the Tournament award.

More power to Shami!