The sight of Mohammed Shami hobbling off the field without completing his over on Saturday afternoon would have set off alarm bells. Not because he can’t bowl further in this Test — he probably will on the morrow itself; but because this has happened once too often for comfort.
Last November, in the Rajkot Test against England, Shami went off with a similar problem: clutching his hamstring. But when Shami came back to bowl late in the evening his withdrawal from the playing field was put down to a mere case of cramps.
Unfortunately the symptoms resurfaced during the third Test at Mohali before the selectors played it safe and replaced him for the fourth Test in Mumbai.
The puzzling aspect of the cramps at Rajkot was that it had occurred during the early part of the first day of the first Test, when his workload was minimal. At the Eden Gardens too his workload would have hardly raised a sweat in an international sportsman. His meagre 13.5 overs were spread over four spells and two sessions. And even during that short stint he had given enough indications that all was not well with him.
Make no mistake; Shami is a world-class fast bowler, one of the very best in India. But he has a history of injuries and that should be the worrying aspect for the team as it gears up for a series of tough and testing overseas tours in the coming months.
It may be recalled that Shami suffered a knee injury in 2015 and this was followed by a hamstring injury. These kept him out of cricket for over a year.
Despite his dodgy knee Shami played a leading role in the 2015 World Cup. He’d have fluids sucked out of the knee and turn up for practise on the eve of the match. Despite the pain and discomfort he finished the tournament on a high, having scalped 17 wickets in India’s march up to the semi-finals.
Subsequently, Shami’s knee required surgery. Post-operation he was bed-ridden for close to two months. He was ordered not to put his foot down and also needed crutches for mobility.
The doctor attending to him had described his injury as a career-threatening one and stated that only Shami’s hard work had put him back on his feet.
The fast bowler underwent extensive rehabilitation at the NCA in Bangalore where physios worked diligently to get him ready to resume his cricketing career. He however missed out on the whole 2015 season, including that year’s edition of the IPL.
His subsequent issues with hamstring ensured that he was out of competitive cricket for over a year.
Shami is neither younger nor as fit at this point of his career. But there is no denying that the bowler has outstanding skills both with the new ball and the rare ability to reverse swing the old one. As fast bowler he is a great asset to the team and the Indian bowling attack would surely be a lot more potent with him around.
Even on Saturday he bowled superb lines and was getting lift and seam movement in his second and third spells. It was plain bad luck that he did not pick up a couple of wickets during those spells.
In fact the worrying aspect about Shami is not his bowling but the huge question mark over his physical fitness, particularly the leg which takes so much of the load during the course of his bowling.
Frankly, India cannot afford to have one of its key bowlers breaking down in the middle of a Test in South Africa or England.
Even otherwise it is no secret that the team management is anxious to build a vast pool of fast bowlers. They already have proven pacemen in Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Jaspreet Bumrah and may be even Hardik Pandya, but need another four or five more going into the next year. They are hoping that Mohammed Siraj, Natarajan, Birender Sran, Jaydev Unadkat, Aniket Chaudhary, Sharadul Thakur, et al would develop rapidly enough to be in contention soon.
Shami, though, continues to be a vital member of the Indian pace attack and would be sorely needed in South Africa and beyond. It is up to the Board and team management to ensure that he stays fit over the next year or so. To this end it would not be a bad idea to allocate the best possible personal trainer to him. He could also be paced in such a way that he does not play mindless matches on the domestic circuit. If need be he could also be financially compensated to stay out of the IPL too!
In fact it would be a good idea if Shami, team management, selectors and Board do get the big picture for once!