India's Mohammad Shami celebrates his hat-trick
Mohammad Shami celebrates his hat-trick after dismissing Afghanistan's Mujeeb Ur Rahman during the ICC World Cup last year. The in-form pace bowler was the highest wicket-taker in One-day Internationals last year with 42 wickets. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: There is very little, according to the Indian pace warhead Mohammad Shami, that he or his teammates can do about the uncertainty over resumption of international cricket - other than keeping themselves ready. And Shami has been doing exactly that in the sanctuary of his farmhouse in the remote Amroah village of Uttar Pradesh.

The last time he played competitive cricket was in the two-match Test series against New Zealand in February, following which the one-day series against South Africa in March was cancelled with the COVID-19 pandemic making it’s presence felt in India. When Shami initially parked himself at his native village, his intention was to take a break and recharge the batteries for the Indian Premier League (IPL), where he would have turned out for Kings XI Punjab.

‘‘There is nothing you can do about the virus than staying at home and keeping yourself ready for the time when action resumes,’’ Shami said during an exclusive telephone interview with Gulf News. ‘‘Fortunately, I have all the facilities here away from the city with an open field for jogging, gymnasium and swimming pool and have been making use of it for over last two months. My brothers have often kept me company,’’ said the highest wicket-taker (42) in world cricket in the One-day Internationals last year.

It had been the Shami 3.0 that Indian cricket had been witnessing for the past two seasons - with some remarkable work on his fitness and a new-found hunger making the difference after a nightmarish start to 2018. His world came crashing down in the personal front when wife Hasin Jahan labelled criminal charges of assault against him and the Indian cricket board dropped him from their contracts list for a period. Shami did come back to play the IPL for the Delhi franchise that season but both his confidence, and fitness, had taken a heavy beating - he failed the Yo-Yo test and was subsequently dropped from the Test squad against Afghanistan.

The personal problems scarred him so deep that the cricketer revealed during a recent Instagram chat that he contemplated suicide thrice during that phase, but were deterred by his close circle of friends and family.

‘‘Yes, those were really tough times. However, I didn’t lose faith in my cricket and always believed that if I could come back to play international cricket after that knee surgery in 2015, then nothing can stop me,’’ said the 29-year-old. It’s no secret that Shami had bowled with a troubled knee right through the ICC World Cup in Australia and ended as the second highest wicket-taker in the showpiece with 17 scalps before going under the knife - putting his career on the line.

After tiding two such stormy phases that life has thrown him into, Shami is at peace with himself now, preparing himself largely for the four-Test series against Australia at the end of the year. When asked if the ‘Baggy Greens’ will be a different kettle of fish than the side whom Kohli & Co had beaten in 2018-19 with the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, a competitive Shami said: ‘‘I don’t really care as the challenge will not be anymore or less than facing any other good teams like say England, New Zealand or South Africa. We have played enough cricket against them and I will be backing myself to go all out against them.’’

I don’t really care (about facing Australia) as the challenge will not be anymore or less than facing any other good teams like say England, New Zealand or South Africa. We have played enough cricket against them and I will be backing myself to go all out against them

- Mohammad Shami

How difficult will it be for a fast bowler like Shami to get back into the scheme of things, now that there is a question mark over both the Asia Cup and T20 World Cup in view of the international travel districtions and quarantine procedure? ‘‘It’s definitely tough for however practice you do at the nets, there is no alternative to bowling in match situations. I have heard that there are no warm-up matches ahead of the Test series, but I would request the BCCI to ask for at least a few two-day or three-day games,’’ he said.

Finally, how does he look at the likely ban on bowlers from using saliva to keep shine on the ball in view of the recent health concerns? ‘‘It’s difficult to say at this point as it has always been a habit for me to apply saliva on the ball. However, the rules will be the same for all sides - so we will have to see how it goes,’’ Shami added.