Editor's note: This article was published first on Friday morning, before the announcement that Mohammed Shami has been ruled out of Asia Cup. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been named his replacement
Indian cricket has a definite dearth of fast bowlers. But selecting an unfit player in Mohammed Shami in the hope that he’d fire on all cylinders in next month’s ICC World T20 championship is either taking a huge leap of faith or scraping the bottom of a barrel. Take your pick.
Consider the facts: The last Test Shami played was in January last year (Vs Australia at SCG). His last ODI was in the World Cup, also against Australia and at the SCG last March. And his T20 international was against England in September 2014.
So the question is, what exactly has Shami done since to deserve a recall for Asia Cup in Bangladesh next week and the World T20 in March?
Nothing. He’s done nothing of consequence to warrant selection.
The Bengal bowler played last year’s World Cup with a dodgy knee. Subsequently he pulled out of IPL last year. He went under the scalpel and spent the next two months recuperating from surgery. It was a slow and painful road and the fast bowler, who sent batsmen scurrying in the past, could not move even between the rooms in his house.
The rehabilitation included a prolonged use of crutches. It was only after he kicked them away and gingerly started walking and jogging that he could even think about playing the game.
Shami, in an interview had stated that it was one of the most difficult phases of his life and he needed to be mentally very strong and committed to be able to think positively about playing the game again.
There is no denying that at his peak Shami was hugely successful for India. He might have played just a dozen Tests (47 wickets), 47 ODIs (87 wickets) and a mere 4 T20Is (5 wickets @ 25 and an economy rate of 8.92) but was already looked upon as India’s best fast bowler, ahead of Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and others.
He was quick, could move the ball both ways and delivered a useful yorker that tested batsmen at the death. But his career almost came to an abrupt end because of his bad knee.
Any bowler, all the more a fast bowler, puts heavy stress on legs for loading his action, landing and release. This very basic requirement of bracing on the front foot, followed by the pivot is what gives his action the thrust and momentum.
Shami developed an issue with his left knee and struggled for months before he agreed to a career-threatening knee operation in a bid to get back into the game.
His post-operation rehabilitation was expected to take a few months but the selectors surprisingly added his name to the 30-man probables' squad for the series against South Africa last year.
Of course the Bengal fast bowler, who was undergoing rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, did not play. But the whole idea of including him in the probables' list was puzzling. Forget running in to bowl at full steam, he was struggling even to walk.
Yet the selectors chose him and it probably worked out well with him too as he got a BCCI contract. But the truth was that he was far from being ready to bowl in any international match.
Bengal utilised his services in a couple of Syed Mustaq Ali tournaments matches (T20) and Vijay Haraze matches (50 overs a side) before the selectors rushed him into the national team for the tour to Australia. He did not play and was sent back home and Bhuvneshwar Kumar flew in as his replacement.
Shami has not played any tough, challenging cricket for close to a year now. Even if for argument’s sake he is acknowledged to be fit, fact is, he is far from being match fit, which is another thing altogether.
One former cricketer, who saw him bowling briefly with the wards of the IDBI-Federal Bowling Foundation under coach and former Australian great Jeff Thomson in Bengaluru last week, said he was nowhere being match-fit. Even his run-up left a lot to be desired, he observed.
Perhaps the selectors took a chance with him in the hope they could get Shami match-fit by Asia Cup. That hardly makes sense considering that the event with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as opposition is in itself a mini-World Cup for India.
Instead the opportunity could have been utilized to get one of the other pacemen ready for the World T20 championship.
Coming back from injury or after a surgery is traumatic for any sportsman. The scars are not just physical but also mental. No matter how experienced or good Shami was, he still would need to test the waters with a series of matches before being mentally prepared for the harsh, uncompromising world of international cricket.
Hastening his comeback might actually do more harm than good to his and the team’s cause.