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Fast bowlers are expected to be tall and imposing personalities who can glare down at batsman. But Mohammed Shami is quite the opposite. One has rarely seen the wiry pacer glare at or exchange words with batsmen. Soft spoken and humble, Shami has gone about his tasks with quiet determination. Not just with the ball, Shami has also shown patience with the bat to hold up one end while helping the other batsman add runs.
His ability to take up a challenge and come up trumps has been evident since his childhood days when he was still finding his feet in the gentleman’s game. In his very first match while playing with the leather ball, Shami was sent to open the innings by his elder brother. The result – Shami struck a century and later picked up three wickets to round up a good outing on the field.
In an exclusive interview with IPLT20.com in Delhi, Shami spoke about his game, his admiration for Dale Steyn, his desire to reverse the ball like Wasim Akram and his wish to emulate Zaheer Khan’s line and length.
Excerpts from his interview:
When did you first play with the leather ball?
I think I was in ninth standard when my elder brother (who was also a fast bowler) let me play with him for the first time. I was a bowler too but I didn’t even know how to grip the ball. My brother made me bat in that game and sent me to open the innings. I remember being scared when I walked out in the middle to bat. I still remember the delivery that touched my bat and zipped past, I gained confidence from then on. I scored 103 runs and picked up three wickets later. Having said that, I had no idea about technique or what line and length means while bowling.
When did you first come to terms with pressure in a competitive game?
The semifinal against Tamil Nadu in a Syed Mushtaq Ali match. I was given the ball and asked to defend nine runs in the last over. At that time, I realised what responsibility and pressure is all about.
Do you remember your first wicket in domestic cricket?
I think it was during my debut against Assam in the Ranji Trophy. Amol Muzumdar used to play for Assam back then and I claimed his wicket.
Still early days in your international cricketing career but is there a wicket that you claimed you cherish the most?
Representing India in ODIs, I played in a lot of tight matches. I remember the ODI series against Australia in 2013. The wickets I took in my first game of the series at Ranchi have been the best for me so far. Getting the wickets of quality batsmen like Shane Watson and Aaron Finch during the series was good. The deliveries I bowled to them seemed the best to me.
You have played with Zaheer Khan and had an opportunity to work with Wasim Akram who are amongst the best exponents of swing bowling. What have you learnt from your interactions with them?
For both of them, pace is the most important aspect with line and length and swing to follow. It means a lot for a youngster like me when senior fast bowlers share that kind of knowledge.
Zaheer bhai tells me, ‘Don’t let your pace drop and keep your line and length in control. It shouldn’t happen in the pursuit of pace that you stray in line and length. And then (if you have control over those aspects), you have a good chance to extract swing as well.’
Wasim bhai also tells me that swing is important for a bowler. I keep their inputs in mind and keep working on them.
You have been reversing the ball and getting wickets. How have you worked towards it?
When I began playing, I didn’t know much about it, but when I started playing domestic cricket and played with senior players, I was able to get a handle on things. The SG Test ball swings well and also reverses. And then upon meeting a lot of seniors, including Zaheer bhai and Wasim bhai, I have always tried to learn something from everyone, and I will continue to do so.
If you had to take one thing from Zaheer Khan and Wasim Akram, what will it be?
From Wasim - Reverse swing, and from Zaheer - line and length.
Who has influenced your bowling the most?
Currently, I like Dale Steyn. Earlier, I would admire Pakistan’s pace attack. I would adore Pakistan’s bowling attack that had the likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram. Now with God’s grace, I get to meet them and talk to them.
Who has been the most difficult to bowl to?
I had the most problem while bowling to my Delhi Daredevils captain, Kevin Pietersen. He is tall and shuffles a lot in the crease. You bowl a bouncer to him, it ends up being too short and he would hit you immediately. If you pitch it up, he has such a long stride that he can reach the ball and drive it. So you have to judge the line and length correctly. The ODI series against England was the most difficult for me.
So now, are you happy that you don’t have to bowl at him?
Now, I am ready for anyone. I am working all the time to improve.
What are you working on currently?
The Test series in England is in sight but right now, the focus is on the IPL. So here I am working on where to bowl the Yorker and work on bowling at the right line and length.
What has it been like to work with DD’s coach Gary Kirsten?
This is the first time I am working with him. He is good and always gives valuable inputs on how to get better.
You also have Eric Simons in the Daredevils setup who has been working with bowlers for a long time. What has your interactions with him been like?
I have always wanted to speak to Eric Simons and TA Sekar and I got that opportunity this time representing DD. I have been working with Simons who has a great insight on bowling. He notices your bowling and tells you where you are going wrong and how to work on them. He is also giving me good inputs on getting the Yorkers right.
Since you started playing, which coach has had the most influence on you?
I want to learn something from everyone. In the Indian team, we have Joe Dawes and Duncan Fletcher who help a lot. They don’t put you under pressure and they handle things well. They explain well and show you what needs to be done, which feels good.
In the days leading up to the season, Royal Challengers Bangalore’s was considered among the strongest batting line-ups in the competition. One of the main reasons behind that top billing was the presence of Chris Gayle. The top run-getter in the T20s and the only batsman to score more than 10 centuries in the format, Gayle warmed the benches during the first couple of matches because of an injury.
However, after defeats at the hands of Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals, RCB needed to infuse new energy into their line-up and it came in the form of Chris Gayle, who took the field despite not being 100 percent fit. Though he got off the mark cheekily – edging one past the lone slip fielder to pick up a boundary – the Jamaican wasted little time in stamping his authority. He defended the second delivery back to the bowler, sliced the third ball to the point boundary, didn’t make contact while attempting a sweep off the fourth ball and deposited the fifth and sixth deliveries into the stands either side of the sight screen. In his first outing of the season, the Jamaican scored 20 off the first six balls he faced. Though he was dismissed off the next delivery, he had given us glimpses of what was to come.
There’s this general perception that T20 cricket is a fast-paced format and that it is all about power and big hits. However, in the match between Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders, Steve Smith showed that one needed to be clever as well to be successful in this format. At the end of regulation, both teams were tied on 152 runs and that meant they had to compete in the Super Over to bag the two points on offer. KKR batted first and posted 11 runs. Shane Watson and Steve Smith picked up four runs off the first three deliveries and five more from the subsequent two. That meant they needed three more runs to win the Super Over outright. Watson and Smith were well aware of the rules – in case both teams finished on the same number of runs in the Super Over, the winner would be decided on the basis of the boundary count for either side. RR had scored more boundaries than KKR and it was therefore no surprise that Smith punched the ball into the extra cover region with soft hands and picked up a brace – enough to tie KKR’s Super Over tally – and help his team to two points.
Several years ago, renowned coach John Buchanan – who was then with the Kolkata Knight Riders – had said that it wasn’t too far before one would see ambidextrous players in cricket. David Warner seems to have taken those words very seriously. In Sunrisers Hyderabad’s match against the Mumbai Indians, Warner – soon after he had brought up his half-century – had the audacity to attempt a switch-hit against one of the most challenging bowlers in world cricket. Playing a switch-hit or a reverse-sweep is difficult in normal circumstances. But to play it against Lasith Malinga – with his slingy action and unorthodox release from in front of the umpire’s face and not to mention his generally fuller length deliveries – is unthinkable. Not for Warner though, who attempted it, and pulled it off successfully to pick up a brace. The Australian executed everything perfectly – just as the ball was being released, he changed his stance to that of a right-hander, changed grip on the bat handle too, stayed low and late cut it to what would have been fine-leg had he not switched his stance.
Sea of Blue at Wankhede Stadium
There is no doubt that the Pepsi Indian Premier League produces some of the best cricketing action and is the most followed cricket competition in the world. But it is important to know that the IPL is not only about the contests between bat and ball. Apart from being a commercial entity, several franchises use their brands to support social initiatives. And the Education for All initiative – supported by the Mumbai Indians – is one such cause. On Saturday, when the Mumbai Indians clashed with Kings XI Punjab, entire Wankhede Stadium was dressed in blue. Literally! As part of their Education for All initiative – which supports equal and rightful education in our society – the Mumbai Indians drove 18,000 underprivileged children to the Wankhede Stadium to see their favourite cricketers in action. It was an incredible sight; all the children were sporting the Mumbai Indians blue, occupied every seat in the house, and backed their team vociferously chanting ‘Mumbai, Mumbai’. With so many kids rooting for the team, it was not a surprise that Mumbai Indians went on to register their first win of the season. Here’s hoping at least a handful of kids from the many who watched the game at the Wankhede get inspired to take up the game and go on to don the revered blue and gold jersey worn by their heroes.
Gautam’s caress six
Mumbai Indians wicket-keeper CM Gautam played one of the more difficult shots in cricket – driving a fast bowler for a six over extra cover. The shot calls for a lot of elements to come together – balance, picking the line and length early, timing, elevation and leaning into the shot to get the distance. In the fifth over, Kings XI Punjab medium-pacer Sandeep Sharma delivered a slower delivery wide outside the off-stump. Gautam was up to the task; he picked the pace, line and length to perfection, planted his left foot forward, gave himself enough room to free his arms, picked the extra cover region, got under the ball and played an exquisite cover drive that sent the ball sailing over extra cover. In a format where batsmen rely on power, this was all about timing – the stroke was straight out of the coaching manual and had the finesse of a surgeon.
With RCB needing 28 from the final two overs, RCB fans would have firmly believed their team could still get the runs; especially given the history between AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. de Villiers, on strike for the first ball of the 19th over, stood rooted to the crease, picked the length of the delivery early and dispatched the ball over the square-leg fence. The following delivery, he stood his ground – in line with the off-stump – and hit the ball over the long-on boundary. He scrambled for a leg-bye off the third ball of the over. Back on strike on the fifth ball, de Villiers gave himself enough room to free his arms and sent the ball racing towards the extra cover boundary.
De Villiers, however, was not done yet. He walked across to the off-side – almost the edge of the pitch exposing all his three stumps to the bowler – leant over to the off-side, made contact with the ball and took full toll of the final delivery of the over. The ball sailed high and deep into the stands at fine-leg. It was cricket and drama at its best. Even allowing the benefit of familiarity from facing Steyn in the nets, it was an astonishing assault from de Villiers – ranked by many as the best batsman in the world currently. What generally escapes the attention is the batsman’s clarity of thought – despite facing one of the quickest bowlers in world cricket today and despite the pressures of the run-chase, the choice of shots and the quick footwork reflected acute confidence. It was the perfect way to draw curtains on yet another action-packed week in Pepsi IPL 2014.