Mohammed Shami of India poses after taking five wickets following the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023 between India and Sri Lanka at Wankhede Stadium on November 02, 2023 in Mumbai, India.
Image: Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC via Getty Images
Highway 85 in Saudi Arabia is considered as the longest straight road in the world. But when the ball leaves Mohammed Shami’s hand, it looks straighter than the lane markings on that road.
“Shami has the best seam position in world cricket,” former Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun said at a press conference in 2019. Many other former cricketers and experts often term Shami’s seam position as “perfect”.
However, Mohammed Shami’s journey hasn’t been so perfect; he has gone through many twists and turns on his way to glory. He was born into a humble family in Uttar Pradesh’s Sahaspur village. His father, Tauseef Ahmed, a farmer, could barely afford the basic needs of Shami and his four siblings.
But having himself played some village-level cricket, his father didn’t ignore Shami’s talent. He supported him and sent him to a coach in Moradabad when he was 15. Impressed by Shami’s talent, Badruddin Siddiqui– the coach– suggested Tauseef send him to Kolkata for better opportunities.
“When I first saw him [Shami] bowling at the nets as a 15-year-old kid, I knew this boy is not ordinary. So I decided to train him. For one year I prepared him for the UP trials, as we don’t have club cricket over here. He was very co-operative, very regular and very hard working. He never took a day off from training. During the under-19 trials he bowled really well, but due to politics, he missed out on selection. They asked me to bring him next year, but at that moment I didn’t want Shami to miss one year. So I advised his parents to send him to Kolkata,” Siddiqui told CricketCountry
back in 2014.
Shami’s move to Kolkata too was not without its struggles. He had no place to stay and could only survive by playing lower-level club cricket. But as they say “talent finds its way.” Shami found a messiah in Debabrata Das, a former assistant secretary of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). Das not only offered him a contract in his club but also provided him with a place to stay.
Shami’s brilliant performance at club level didn’t go unnoticed. He was soon picked for Bengal’s senior team. Initially, he couldn’t find a place in the playing XI but his consistent performances finally made him a regular member of Bengal in the Ranji Trophy, India’s most prestigious multi-day domestic tournament. Also read: Beyond the glamour of IPL auctions, a cricketer's struggle to survive
The 2012-13 Ranji Trophy was the breakthrough season for Shami as he picked up 28 wickets in five matches. It prompted Indian selectors to pick him for the national team for the ODI series against Pakistan in 2013. His decent performances with the ball in one-day cricket soon landed him in India’s Test team.
Shami with a red ball seemed miraculous. His smooth action, perfect seam position and ability to reverse swing the old ball suddenly made him India’s go-to bowler in the longer format. India had always seen opposition bowlers, especially Pakistan’s Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, wreak havoc with the reverse swing, a unique art in cricket. Shami made India believe they could also threaten opponents with their fast bowling artistry.
However, before Shami could further rise up the ladder, back-to-back injuries plagued his career a bit. He played the 2015 ODI World Cup and a consequent Test series with a knee injury, which made him later sit out for quite a while. Shami’s return got delayed a few times and when he finally returned to action, it took some time for him to get back to his best.
While Shami was trying to get his cricket career back on track, a huge controversy shook his life. In 2018, the fast bowler’s estranged wife, Hasin Jahan, accused him of multiple extramarital affairs and domestic abuse. Although Shami denied the charges, he had to face the wrath.
He lost his central contract with team India as an FIR under several sections was registered against him. It has taken a lot of time for Shami to overcome these challenges.
Nonetheless, on Thursday, November 02, when a 35,000-strong crowd at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai were on their feet chanting “Shami, Shami”, the 33-year-old’s eyes were lit with fire. He ran through the Sri Lankan batting line-up, picking up a five-wicket haul to become the highest wicket-taker for India in World Cup history (45 wickets in 14 matches).
When he got his fifth wicket, Shami raised his hands and got down on his knees, touching the ground, then looking up. Maybe he was signifying life has often dragged him down but he knew how to rise up. The whole team surrounded him, cheering him with pats on the back.
Interestingly, despite having a terrific record in ODI World Cups, Shami was benched during India’s first four matches in the ongoing ICC World Cup 2023. Everyone knows he has the talent but Shami often gets lost around other stars, making him sit out the action more often than being in the centre of it. It was only because of Hardik Pandya’s injury that he could make it to India’s playing XI.
The pacer seized the opportunity with both hands. He picked up a five-wicket haul against New Zealand– in his first match of the tournament—getting him the player of the match award. In the second game, against England, he again looked unplayable, ending up with four wickets to his name.
In the three games he has played so far in the World Cup, he has 14 wickets and two Player of the Match awards under his belt. And he says there is no “rocket science” behind his success.
“No rocket science. Just a matter of rhythm, good food, keeping your mind uncluttered, and, most importantly, the love of the people. The support we get in India has a huge role. When you go out of India, you get so much support from Indians. So I will keep trying to make everyone happy," he said at a match presentation when asked about his success mantra.
It was assumed that once Hardik Pandya recovered, Shami would have to sit out again since he was just a backup. But Shami had other plans. He had to show the world what he was capable of. And from being a backup, Mohammed Shami could well end up being India’s World Cup hero.