India are the big bully of tigers in their den; ever-roaring, ever-ruthless, and with an eternal recipe for home ground domination.
If you are a batsman, especially from outside the subcontinent, and you've visited this land in this decade, or the previous one, or any previous one, you've faced — and, in almost all likelihood, fallen to — your trial by spin.
Let's look solely at the large, now-almost-complete sample that is the 2010s: India have played 16 completed Test series (including one-off rubbers) at home, and won 14. There's one overbearing commonality to the two exceptions — in late 2012, India's spinners were good, but second to England's, and the English, as a result, were able to claim what remains the only series victory for a visiting side in this country this decade; in early 2010, Hashim Amla negated Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra even in his sleep, and thanks to the support of Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn at Nagpur, South Africa were able to walk away with the spoils shared.
Those two aberrations aside, it's been a road full of twists and turns, hasn't it, for all touring batsmen. Looking just at the recent past (the 'Kohli years' if I may), India have taken 439 out of 470 available wickets in 24 Tests at home since the beginning of 2015 — R Ashwin alone has accounted for over a third of that 439, while Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are together responsible for 61.50 percent of those strikes.
So spin, as always, is India's way to win at home. In this light, let's begin to examine Mohammed Shami.
There are two standout features to the career and numbers of the 29-year-old pacer, both deviating from conventional knowledge around fast bowlers, particularly from India: Shami delivers much better returns at home then he does away; perhaps more peculiarly, he becomes a far greater threat when bowling for the second time in the match (ie, in the third or fourth innings, compared to the first or second).
He averages 23.57 at home, as against 30.39 away; he also takes, on average, seven lesser deliveries to find a wicket in Tests on Indian soil. Between innings, the difference is even further — from an average of 34.47 and a wicket every 60.6 balls when bowling in the first or the second innings of a Test, Shami's numbers rocket to an average of 22.58 and a wicket every 41.4 balls when delivering in the third or the fourth innings.
This innings-wise breakdown, and how much stronger Shami becomes later on in a game, is particularly notable — and also, so obviously, telling to end outcomes.
Imagine one of those few games where the opposition digs in for a long haul in their first attempt, usually a by-product of a flat wicket, one that holds up for the majority of the five days, which would generally mean a humungous amount of overs bowled by Ashwin and Jadeja (or whoever makes up the spin department). Then, if the game does end up reaching a scenario where India need 10 wickets on the final day to force a win, there could be a case of the spin twins tiring and not being in best position to make full use of the fifth day track. How much more vital does the presence of a Shami become in such a case?
Hang on: did I just narrate the story of the Vizag Test? Well, it wasn't a first for Shami — and the track record tells us it's unlikely to be the last.
You'd think an average of 22.58 with a strike rate of 41.4 is superb enough, but Shami in the third and fourth innings of Tests on home soil averages 17.34, and requires only 34 balls per dismissal.
Cannot stress enough on this: we're talking about India. Indian wickets. In the final stretches of a Test match. Historically, it has taken fast bowlers 58 balls for every wicket in the fourth innings of Tests on Indian soil — Shami, at 33, takes a full 25 lesser deliveries to break through for his team.
He may have played the vast part of his cricket over the past couple of years with clouds hovering over his personal life, but such are the strides that Shami has been taking that he now stands miles clear in terms of effectiveness if you look at fast bowlers and their returns in India this decade.
With a qualifying criterion of 100 overs bowled, no bowler — Indian or otherwise — holds a strike rate of less than 52.8 in Tests in India since 2010. Shami stands at 46.
You begin to see why he has the backing of his team management, in case you didn't already. Which also leads one to the third 'quirk' among Shami's Test bowling statistics; he's been a far better bowler under Virat Kohli than he was under MS Dhoni.
It could be down to his own improvement with experience, and/or it could have to do with the 'freer' hand Kohli has given his bowlers in Test cricket — the bare fact is that Shami's average has fallen by nearly 30 percent since Kohli became captain in the longest format.
His prowess, along with that of someone like Umesh Yadav — the leading wicket-taker among fast bowlers in India this decade, with the second-best strike rate — adds just a compelling dimension to the already-dominant machinery that was the Indian Test team on home soil.
Invincibility is something this Indian crop aspires for. Indian Test cricket has always had the batsmen; it has always had the spinners. The last few years, the previous cycle of tours and travelling, showed the world that Indian Test cricket now also has pace — better than ever before, and in an abundance hitherto unthinkable.
Shami's astounding numbers bowling on the dry Indian wickets through the 2010s tell you that the pace factor now exists at home too. That can only add further meat to the indomitable recipe that has existed for years.
And remember, a certain Jasprit Bumrah is yet to have even played a Test match on home soil.
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