There can be few things in life more important for a sportsperson than representing his/her country at a major international event. India's pace spearhead Mohammad Shami combined brilliantly with Bhuvneshwar Kumar to help the hosts clinch the second Test against New Zealand at Kolkata last month. But at the time, he was going through great personal turmoil. His daughter was recuperating in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) due to high fever, in the same city where the Test took place.
This was not the only time when Shami put country above everything else; he had led the Indian bowling attack admirably during the 2015 World Cup as well as in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that preceded it, all the while playing through a knee injury.
It speaks volumes of the courage shown by a man who's ready to make the toughest of sacrifices to help his team win. If the team can find 11 more such players, nothing will stop them from dominating the sport.
Shami has always been getting prodigious swing movement, right from his early days, as confirmed by his Moradabad-based coach Badruddin Siddique, who mentioned how the young pacer would carry used balls from junior cricket tournaments and polish one side to practise reverse swing.
It took the Bengal pacer 15 First Class and as many List-A appearances to break his way into the Indian side, having migrated to eastern Indian state from Uttar Pradesh at the age of 17 to boost his chances of realising his dream of playing international cricket.
Following a string of consistent performances, including a 28-wicket haul in the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season, he received his maiden India cap against Pakistan in the third ODI dayer in New Delhi later that season. Figures of 9-4-23-1 — the first time an Indian bowler bowled four or more maidens on ODI debut — was just a sampler of what Shami could offer to the Indian team in days to come.
His Test debut was even better, as he produced plenty of swing and seam to record match figures of 9 for 118 against the West Indies on his home ground, as India claimed an innings win.
Given his ability to swing the ball, even worn-out cherries, Shami soon became an important part of captain MS Dhoni's plans. He was picked for India's overseas tours to South Africa and New Zealand, where he was the leading wicket-taker in the ODI legs of both tours and was relatively consistent in Tests as well.
The brightest moment of his career, however, was during the 2015 World Cup, where he bagged 17 wickets at a destructive average of 17. His 4/35 broke the backbone of the Pakistani batting-order, and played an important role in setting up India's sixth World Cup win over their arch-rivals, as did Virat Kohli's defiant century. His wickets were the inspiration that drove Team India forward, and helped them bowl their opposition out in every single match barring a heart-breaking semi-final defeat to Australia, ironically the one match where Shami went wicketless.
Injury woes then caught up with him soon afterwards and he was forced to miss out on the eighth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well, a big loss to the Delhi Daredevils, who had purchased his services for Rs 4.25 crore a year earlier. He was, however, compensated for the same by the BCCI, who generously offered him Rs 2.2 crore for missing out.
Between the 2015 and 2016 editions of the IPL, he played just two games in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and resumed competitive cricket with this year's edition of IPL, where he was far from his best (five wickets at 48.8).
He roared back into form on the tour of West Indies in July-August, playing all four matches and finishing as the second-highest wicket-taker behind Ravichandran Ashwin, recording figures of 4/66 in his comeback Test. While the home Tests against New Zealand were dominated by the spin pair of Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, Shami did produce a scintillating spell on a pace-friendly Eden Gardens track, partnering brilliantly with fellow swing exponent Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Ahead of the five-Test series against England, the first of which starts on Wednesday at Rajkot, the one thing that will be on top of Shami's mind will be his poor average of 73 against the English, easily his worst opponents. While he has had a chance to showcase his batting skills against them — sharing a magnificent 111-run 10th-wicket stand with Bhuvneshwar in Nottingham in 2014 — he is yet to dominate the English batting order with the ball.
But given the hunger for wickets that he has shown since his return to cricket, a few things could soon change for good.
Click here to read profiles of other players involved in the India-England Test series.
Click here for the full schedule, when and where to watch the matches, live coverage on TV, online streaming.