Kolkata: It has not been an easy journey for Mohammed Shami, one of the leaders of India’s pace bowling pack across all formats, to reach the space where he is today. From the struggle of early cricketing years, injuries to a major turbulence in personal life a few years back - he has weathered it all.
The experience has toughened him up so much that he prefers a take-it-as-it-comes attitude in life - and it’s no different when it comes to major assignments like the World Test Championship final against New Zealand next month or the five-Test series against England which follows. He is now 20 wickets shy of becoming only the fifth Indian pace bowler to reach 200 wickets in Tests (after Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma), a realistic target with six Tests coming up in England conditions - but Shami is not willing to set any goals for himself.
‘‘See, there is no point in planning too much as certain things are not in our control. Who would have thought that the pandemic would virtually destroy two years of our lives - hence I prefer to take it by each series or tournament as the case may be,’’ said the ‘Sahaspur Express,’ as Shami is often referred to after the village in Uttar Pradesh where he comes from. During the nationwide lockdown last year, Shami had joined hands with the district administration to distribute home-cooked food for underprivileged people but this time following the suspension of the IPL season - he is keeping himself ready to report with the rest of the squad on May 25 for the mandatory quarantine in Mumbai before flying to England on June 2.
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Now 30, Shami along with Ishant Sharma are now the defacto leaders of the pace bowling unit - which under the coaching of Bharat Arun - has played a key role in India occupying the No.1 position in ICC Test rankings and dominating other formats as well. Does the senior role mean extra responsibility? ‘‘It comes automatically as after being in international cricket for so many years, I would like to share any input that the youngsters may want. I am not going to play forever, so it will be great if I can pass on something to the youngsters,’’ Shami said in an exclusive interview with Gulf News over phone from his residence.
The line-up of fast bowlers in the jumbo Indian squad is quite awe inspiring with Shami, Ishant, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur while there are three promising tyros as stand byes: Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan and Arzan Nagwaswalla.
It had been a dream season for Indian cricket team during 2020-21, which saw them winning a back-to-back Test series in Australia with a heavily depleted team and then following it up with a 3-1 rout of England at home. ‘‘We have played some extraordinary cricket in recent times as an unit and naturally, the confidence level is high on the eve of our departure for England. If we can reproduce some of the form which we did over last six months, I am confident it will be a great summer for us,’’ Shami said.
Unfortunately though, Shami could not be a part of the purple patch as he was struck on the elbow by a Pat Cummins delivery while batting during the day-night first Test in Adelaide Oval - which ruled him out of the rest of the series as well as the England series which followed. However, despite staging a comeback to competitive cricket after nearly four months, Shami showed no rustiness as he plunged headlong into IPL campaign for his team Punjab Kings - picking up eight wickets from as many matches and showed no let-up in his aggression.
How did he prepare himself for the IPL season without any match practice? ‘‘The experience over the years have helped me to learn to look after my body. I know how much training is needed, how to keep myself hydrated etc - all these factors must have also helped,’’ he said with a chuckle.
The experience over the years have helped me to learn to look after my body. I know how much training is needed, how to keep myself hydrated etc - all these factors must have also helped
Looking ahead at what would be his approach to bowling in England, where his potent revese swing could be at a premium, Shami felt it would depend on the conditions. ‘‘I do not believe in overthinking about what my approach will be. I found my rhthym back in the IPL and the rest, of course, depends on the conditions,’’ he said.
Shami, who played his domestic cricket for Bengal, had been quite an inspirational figure to a number of struggling cricketers here from north India - from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in recent years. A pair of fast bowlers from Bihar: Akash Deep and Mukesh Kumar have shone for Bengal while Shami’s own brother, Mohammed Kaif, have now made his List A debut for Bengal at the Vijay Hazare Trophy in March.
Asked if he had actually played his part in helping these small town cricketers to dream big, Shami said: ‘‘I owe a lot to Bengal cricket to be where I am today. I started playing first class cricket there. The state has done very well in the last two seasons and now my brother Kaif has also made his debut. I will be happy if my journey has helped these guys to believe in themselves.’’