A quick look at Mohammed Shami's peculiar ODI career will certainly surprise you. 91 wickets in 50 matches with an economy of 5.48 and strike-rate of 27.7 — on paper, the 28-year old seamer looks like one of the most reliable options in India's 50-over scheme of things. In fact, with 17 scalps in seven matches, during the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Shami was the third-joint highest wicket-taker in the competition. However, since then, he has featured in just three ODIs, with his last appearance coming against Australia more than 12 months ago in Bengaluru.
Amid such circumstances, the Uttar Pradesh-born pacer has been recalled in the ODI set-up for the upcoming series against West Indies, which starts in Guwahati on 21 October. Shami has been picked in the 14-member Indian squad, named for the first two matches of the five-match series.
The absence of first-choice options, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, has provided this much-awaited opportunity to Shami to revive his limited-overs' career, which in the past had been marred by multiple injuries, personal issues, dip in form and ignorance by the team management.
After making his debut against Pakistan in Delhi back in 2013 till the 2015 World Cup, Shami was a regular feature in limited-overs' cricket. In MS Dhoni's team, he often spearheaded the pace attack. But things changed drastically for him following the knee injury, which he sustained during the World Cup. And when he finally recovered prior to the 2016 tour of West Indies, the pacer was well behind in the race, especially in the white-ball set-up.
Skill-wise, Shami has all the tricks in his bag which a modern-day pacer requires in ODIs. Even on sub-continental pitches, he can swing the ball both ways, has a deceptive bouncer and a slower ball, can be handy with the new ball as well as in the death overs with his ability to extract reverse-swing on rough surfaces. Though at times Shami bowls predictable lengths in white-ball cricket, there is no denying that he is a genuine wicket-taker across formats.
Still, somehow these days, Shami has been astonishingly branded as a 'Test specialist'.
Yes, the emergence of Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah has played its part but one has to admit that in Virat Kohli's regime, so far Shami has hardly got an opportunity to showcase his white-ball prowess.
Earlier this year, during India's tour of South Africa, Shami was India's leading wicket-taker (15 wickets in 3 matches) in the Test series. His performance fetched him a spot in the ODI squad but the team management never felt the urge of trying him out during the six-match series, which was played right after the red-ball assignment. Even newcomer Shardul Thakur got a game, but an in-form and fully fit Shami was seen carrying water throughout the series.
Nevertheless, he has continued to excel in Test cricket. And his consistent show in England as well as against the Windies at Rajkot has eventually forced the selectors to call him back in the ODI squad. And this time Shami is expected to get a chance in the playing XI as well.
Speaking on his inclusion, MSK Prasad, India's chief selector has made it crystal clear that this opportunity against West Indies is more like a trial for next year's World Cup.
“I've been telling this for quite some time that we are just 18 ODIs from now before we play our first World Cup game. So we need to figure out our fast bowlers. In that process, we have picked Shami for this. We are looking at third and fourth seamer’s spot.”
It might also be interesting to note that in the recent ODI series in England, the hosts figured out how to deal with the two wrist-spinners — Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. In past year and a half, the duo has been India's greatest strength in the middle overs, but in those two 50-over matches in England, when the spinners failed to make an impact, the bowling looked a bit ordinary.
Hence, keeping this type of adverse situations in mind, India will definitely look to have an alternative plan in their reserves going into the World Cup next year. Ravindra Jadeja can be one option and alongside him, there is a vacancy for a wicket-taker like Shami, who should ideally be preferred for his accuracy and disciplined line and length ahead of Umesh Yadav.
Well, so, in order to keep his World Cup hopes alive, Shami needs to make a case for himself with his performances against Windies as well as in the upcoming tours of Australia and New Zealand.