Gautam Gambhir column: Shami back at Eden Gardens. This is where his journey began

Mohammed Shami's journey from a small town in UP to cricket's biggest stage is quite remarkable

By Gautam Gambhir

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India's Mohammed Shami celebrates his five-wicket-haul against Sri Lanka. — Reuters
India's Mohammed Shami celebrates his five-wicket-haul against Sri Lanka. — Reuters

Published: Sun 5 Nov 2023, 4:30 AM

Back when Mohammed Shami played for Kolkata Knight Riders, he had more hair on his head compared to his face. He was quiet when ‘seniors’ were around and all fun and pranks with younger teammates.

In many ways, his personality reminded me of another fun guy, Munaf Patel. Like Munaf, Shami too is a simple man who would need compelling reasons to come out of his hometown Amroha, where he lives on a farm.

Back then he was extremely fond of mangoes, but now with so many support staff around I don’t know if gets his full-and-more quota. I am sure he is happy that he is getting his full quota of wickets, though.

Before I talk the Shami Show against Sri Lanka, I’d like to take you to the spell he bowled to Ben Stokes when India played England last Sunday. The target of 230 wasn’t intimidating - India had to bowl well. They were at a critical tipping point with England at 30 for 2.

In the background, the dew had descended and enveloped the outfield at the Lucknow stadium. One stroll by that ball across the outfield and it would have virtually stopped swinging and seaming.

Stokes was in the middle. Shami was aware of the enormity of the scene. He didn’t try anything fancy, just ran in hard and kept it simple by hitting the good-length area. On the other end Stokes looked like a novice batsman appearing for a village club trial.

His 10-ball stay at the wicket reaped nothing, neither for the scoreboard nor for England’s self-respect. Meanwhile, Shami was Living It Large, taking off in his celebrations and establishing his presence once again in the collective conscious of the cricket world.

When he started to bowl against Sri Lanka at Wankhede it seemed Shami was still in Lucknow. Nothing seem to have changed -- run in hard, load up, deliver, follow through, smile, wipe sweat, head back for next one. This Smiling Assassin seems to have an automated feel about his bowling.

Today Shami would be returning to the same Eden Gardens dressing room, his home stadium where he once looked forward to savouring ‘Fish Paturi' (a popular Bengali dish).

The contest against South Africa is equally mouth-watering. A part of me says that these two teams could meet again in the finals at Ahmedabad. South Africa have a team that can challenge India but I am a little concerned about their inconsistency. Their loss to the Netherlands and scrape-through vs Pakistan by one wicket sticks out.

India on the other hand have hardly broken sweat in this tournament. Eden Gardens has a zipping outfield and a pitch that may afford some bounce. These two marry well for the fast bowlers.

I have a lot of time for South Africa’s Marco Jansen. This guy could be the next big bowling all-rounder plus he is a brilliant fielder too. His ability to extract bounce even from a fullish length can be disconcerting. Look out for his battle with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Jansen has talented colleagues in Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. South Africa are an amazing fielding side, too. They make sure that you need to add 25-30 runs more to what their batters put up on board.

The South African batting led by Quinton de Kock has impressed on the quantity and quality of runs they have scored. Especially my Lucknow Super Giants teammate De Kock. He has been artistic like a sculptor and effective like a boxer. His talent was never in question, so it is about how badly he wants to leave a legacy. Looks like he has got the balance in place and is giving his best shot to put his hands around a world title.

The same seemed to have rubbed off on the group, too. Heinrich Klaasen continues to rise in stature. After a long time I have seen a non-Asian batsman who plays spin so well. I am not talking only about his ability to hit sixes routed in the crease but also about his deftness in finding singles.

Kolkata is lucky to witness this clash of table-toppers. My friends have been calling me to help them with passes for the game. I have managed a few but am still short. If you have any spare ones don’t forget to DM your former KKR captain. (Gameplan/Dinesh Chopra Media)

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