The sight of the upright seam as the ball leaves Mohammad Shami's hand is a sight to behold. Shami is one of the naturally gifted fast bowlers India has produced in recent times. There is the hustle and bustle in his run-up, the perfect wrist cock and then the release that can be watched over and over again on the loop. No wonder then that Virat Kohli believed in his ability and demanded the Bengal pacer to be at the peak of his fitness for the tours to South Africa, England, and Australia.
On Monday, against Australia, Shami finished with career-best figures of 6-56 to highlight his importance to the Indian bowling unit. Before the first Test in England, there were doubts about Shami's fitness and lack of match practice, but the Indian captain had no concerns and Shami walked into the playing XI. Kohli has plenty of trust in Shami and rightfully so, the Bengal pacer is India's leading wicket-taker in 2018, with 44 wickets at an average of 26.59 and strike-rate of 48.1.
Apart from the brilliant seam position that allows Shami to move the ball of any surface, it is the line and length that he has vastly improved upon in the last few years, that has been a crucial factor behind his success. The last time he toured Australia, his economy rate was close to four, on this tour, it is only a tick over three. In the past, he was guilty of straying on the pads at least once an over, but of late, he has improved his accuracy immensely.
A lot of the credit goes to the bowling and conditioning coaches. No longer is Shami a liability during third and fourth spells. He is as effective in his opening spell as he is at the end of the day. The fitness issues have been eradicated by strengthening his core muscles and also adjusting his run-up.
No longer does he over-stride as he approaches the stumps. The run-up is a lot smoother consisting of smaller steps enabling him to conserve his energy and transfer his weight appropriately at the point of delivery. Add to that, Shami is now an experienced campaigner and understands that fast bowling is about patience as it is about outthinking the batsmen.
On Sunday, after dismissing Tim Paine with a sharp lifter, he greeted Aaron Finch with a similar delivery knowing the condition of Finch's injured finger. On Day 3, he bowled a probing spell in the channel to Travis Head, constantly beating the bat. While others might have been flustered, Shami kindly asked his skipper to employ a deep third man and then threw the wide half-volley that Head flashed straight to the man.
This was the Shami that no longer just ran in and hit the seam. This was the Shami that had specific plans and could execute them diligently. His low arm and the whippy action have always made it difficult for the batsmen, but now he is learning the art of reading the batsmen's mind and adjusting his plans accordingly. Against Usman Khawaja, he persisted bowling around the wicket, constantly believing the ball will straighten enough to kiss the outside edge. The edge finally came, it was a reward for Shami's patience. In the past, he would be guilty of trying to do too many things, but now, he has learnt to be relentless.
On Monday, Shami beat the bat on 11 occasions in the morning session but had no rewards. At the end of day's play, he explained that it is about not getting carried away because the luck is bound to change, if not in that spell or that innings then sometime in the nearby future. This is the new Shami. In the past, he would have strived ever harder, but he can calmly smile at the end of the day and explain his thoughts tolerantly.
"I always try to bowl a good line and length. Rest is up to your luck, how many wickets you get or not. Your approach has to be good. If you are playing Test cricket, you have to focus on your line and length. You will get the wickets automatically." Shami stated.
One area that Shami has benefitted from is the supporting cast. No longer is he the lone battler. There is Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav. Shami now understands his bowling and his role better than ever before. He is producing quality spells time and time again. For the first time in his career, he can be called a complete package.