Auckland: In five Tests since his debut against the West Indies in November 2013, Mohammad Shami has shown complete control of line and length and while the rest of the Indian bowlers have been faltering in the ongoing tour of New Zealand, he is fast emerging as the bowling spearhead.
Shami was the star of the Indian bowling in the second innings of the recently-concluded first Test against New Zealand here, which ended in a 40-run defeat for the visitors.
But Shami made an impression taking three for 37, rattling the top-order of the Black Caps in the second innings, and set his team on a comeback path in the match after their first-innings performance had more or less closed that door.
At the start of play on day one, he bowled with fire, using the bounce in the Eden Park pitch to good effect. During the ODI series, skipper
Mahendra Singh Dhoni had impressed upon the `need to aim the bouncers well`. And Shami did so, making both Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford jump around.
He should have picked up more wickets than the one he did in the first innings. But throughout that innings, he beat the bat regularly and was the toughest Indian bowler on display in best batting conditions.
Even as Brendon McCullum hit a double hundred and the Kiwis crossed the 500-run mark, it goes to show that among the four frontline bowlers deployed by Dhoni, Shami was the only one not to concede 100 runs.
More so, considering that he gave runs at only 3.39 per over, in his complete spell of 1-95 in 28 overs. In comparison, Zaheer Khan (2-132 in 30 overs) gave away runs at 4.40 per over, Ravindra Jadeja (1-120 in 26 overs) at 4.61 per over and despite his six-wicket haul, Ishant Sharma (6-134 in 33.4 overs) went at 3.98 per over.
At the end of the first innings, McCullum pointed out that "some days you just cannot get wickets. Shami bowled very well and didn`t get the rewards".
The New Zealand skipper had talked about Ishant as well, given his superior wicket-tally. But it was obvious that the seamer had bowled
shorter lengths throughout.
Dhoni stressed that the Indian bowling in the first innings had been very poor.
"We gave away too many deliveries to score off (as a bowling unit)," he had said.
But the captain was all praise for Shami, saying, "In the first innings, he was very consistent and did not give too many runs, (even when he wasn`t getting any wickets). He will have to make sure that it becomes part of his bowling and he does not try too many things when he is not getting wickets.
"Cricket seems easy when you are getting runs and wickets but those tough periods are the ones where you have to put in all your learning, whatever you have learned so far."
Shami was handed the new ball first, rather than Zaheer at the start of the Test and then again in the second innings. It could have been coincidence, since the Indian captain likes to play around with bowlers from different ends. But then, there was this moment on day one, 10 minutes before lunch, when New Zealand were reeling at three wickets down for less than 50 runs on board.
India were looking to press on their advantage and Dhoni made a bowling change. Zaheer came in from his fielding position, looking for the ball, but was sent back. And Shami was the captain`s choice.
In five Tests since his debut, Shami has taken 21 wickets. Out of these, he has bowled batsmen 13 times and has another three successful LBW appeals. It hints at a control of line and length that is sometimes found lacking in other bowlers like Ishant, who despite his nine-wicket haul in this first Test is yet to achieve the consistency of a bowler who has played 54 Tests for India.
"In the sub-continent, if you can bowl quick, you know two bouncers and an over-pitched delivery can get you a wicket. At some international venues, this won`t really work. Shami is someone who keeps his line and length really close to the batsmen. His seam positioning is really good and he can bowl quick as well. Now, as he plays more matches, he is learning other ways to get batsmen out," said Dhoni of his new pace spearhead.