Mohammed Shami‘s T20 career seems to be seriously jinxed. He wasn’t selected in the 15-member squad for the T20 World Cup, but found a place in the two stage-rehearsal series at home against Australia and South Africa starting September 20. Given the injury track-record of Indian pacers, a few good performances in these games might have opened up a slot for the 32-year-old, who was in the reserves if something went wrong with the chosen quintet for the World Cup.
But there’s bad news in store for Shami. The senior pacer has tested Covid positive and has been ruled out of the Australia series. It’s a huge blow for the paceman, but did the 32-year-old really deserve to be kept out of the 15 chosen for the World Cup? Now he only has the South Africa series to prove his credentials, provided he gets fit in time.
It’s true that Shami didn’t have the best T20 World Cup in UAE last year. But bowling for champions Gujarat Titans in the IPL, Shami took 20 wickets at an economy rate of 8, which is less than his career economy-rate of 8.52 in the event.
“For me, Shami is a supreme white-ball bowler. It surprises me that he is not in the first 15 for the World Cup, especially in Australia,” Chennai Super Kings bowling coach Lakshmipathy Balaji told TOI. “If given a chance, I would sign him for my franchise without any second thought.”
That shows how highly the paceman is rated in the Indian T20 circuit. While Shami is probably the fastest among the top pacers in India, his ability to hurry batsmen on the front foot makes him a sure-fire candidate. “That’s one of the most important reasons why he should have been there in the team,” Balaji added.
After the last T20 World Cup, the criticism against Shami was that he was bowling too one-paced. That might have made things a touch easier for opposition batsmen, but we shouldn’t forget that in the two games India lost – against Pakistan and New Zealand – the batsmen had failed and the bowlers didn’t have much to play with. In fact, against the Kiwis, he bowled only one over and in the two games against Afghanistan and Scotland, he managed a total of six wickets, albeit a little on the expensive side.
“The importance of a wicket-taker is supreme even in T20 cricket. Shami’s ability to bowl both at the beginning and in the end and take wickets should have been enough to book him a berth in the 15. Probably the thought process of the team is to use bowlers who can keep changing the pace to keep the batsmen guessing,” Balaji said.
That’s why both Arshdeep Singh and Harshal Patel are in the squad while Shami has to miss out. “If you ask me who I will give the 19th over with 20-odd to defend, between Harshal, Arshdeep and Shami my choice will still be Shami. It’s not because the others are bad, but Shami has the experience and he is definitely a handful in Australian conditions,” the bowling coach explained.
It’s not that the Indian team management doesn’t know this. Given the recent injury track-record of the pacers in recent events, including the Asia Cup, they believe there could be an opening in a month-long World Cup. That’s the reason the Bengal man is in the squad for the stage-rehearsal series, so that he can get some game time.
“If Shami bowls well, he could still be the first-choice replacement for the World Cup,” Balaji said. It should be encouraging enough for Shami as he waits for his chance once he tests negative.