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Mohammed Shami, the unexpected star, shines for India in the final World Cup match.


The day following Mohammed Shami’s impressive seven-wicket performance against New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium, which was the best by any bowler in a World Cup knockout match, the Bombay Times published a touching article about his journey and battles against challenges throughout the tournament, where he has appeared to be unstoppable.

The title read, “Mohammed Shami excels in all aspects, serving as an inspiration to others.” The article that followed focused solely on his hair transplant, which the Times highlighted as a powerful statement about mental well-being and drive. This only reinforces the idea that obstacles like hair loss should not hinder one’s journey to success. And who could argue with that? Shami is proudly representing the bald community, although he has now moved on to sporting a magnificent, full head of hair through implants.

However, there is no denying the truth behind the headline. Shami’s World Cup journey is a truly unexpected story, as the 33-year-old bowler made a comeback after being out of the spotlight for some time. Despite some minor discrepancies that have been overlooked by a country obsessed with cricket and Indian cricket’s success, Shami’s story remains a remarkable one.

In the past, Shami slept in a tent belonging to a groundsman in Kolkata and played semi-professional cricket. At one point, he received a reward of mutton biryani for taking five wickets. Now, on Wednesday night, his impressive performance of seven wickets has earned him a message from the prime minister. According to the Economic Times, his brand endorsement fee has already doubled during the World Cup and he has received offers from fast-food and electronics companies.

It has been an amazing World Cup so far. Shami has the most number of wickets in the tournament, with 23 at an average of 9.13. On average, he takes a wicket every 11 balls. In order to equal Glenn McGrath and Mitchell Starc’s record for the most wickets in a single World Cup, he will need four more in the final on Sunday. Shami has had a tough journey, having to sit out four matches before being brought in as a replacement for Hardik Pandya’s injury. However, he has made the most of his opportunities by taking no wickets against the Netherlands and saving his best performances for the most important matches.

Shami’s transformation into a successful white-ball bowler was the result of his perseverance and determination. During the Covid lockdowns, he utilized his time by practicing in various settings such as the nets, a floodlit running track, and even paid local batters to face him. He dedicated long hours to improving his skills with a white ball soaked in water, preparing himself to excel in challenging conditions such as an old ball, dew, lights, and flat tracks.

In the 2021 IPL, Shami emerged as one of the top bowlers. His focus now is on precision rather than creativity. Through constant practice, he has perfected the angle of the seam upon release and has mastered a powerful backspin that causes the ball to bite into the pitch. Shami consistently bowls in the same area, but varies the angle of his wrist to create unpredictable movement. He is essentially a skilled seam bowler who can produce various types of deliveries that keep the batsman on edge, forcing them to play uncomfortably.

There are other nuances to consider, particularly the inconsistency in where he stands on the crease. This was evident in the semi-final wicket of Rachin Ravindra, who was tempted into a swing at a ball delivered from a wider angle. His mind was likely confused by the pressure of that delivery and the unpredictable movement of the ball.

At the age of 33, Shami has created a fast-medium mystery seam with exceptional craftsmanship. Despite not being particularly athletic and lacking superhuman abilities, he relies on his wrist and strategic thinking. This is, in its own way, a remarkable sports story as it presents the opportunity for Shami to make a defining moment in his career during the final match against Australia in Ahmedabad.

India’s Mohammed Shami celebrates after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews

Before this turns into an overly positive narrative, there are two notable aspects. Shami is not only India’s most well-known Muslim cricketer, but he is also playing during a time of increasing Hindu nationalism. He faced relentless online abuse, being called names such as a “Pakistani traitor”, following the T20 World Cup loss against India’s rival country last year.

Virat Kohli spoke out in defense of his teammate, stating that attacking someone for their religion is a despicable act. This was a noteworthy move from Kohli, given his popularity. It was also culturally significant to see Narendra Modi of the BJP party commend Shami’s performance on social media. In some cases, sports can bridge the gap between different cultures.

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Moving on to the next topic, it is worth noting that cultural norms and societal expectations have allowed Shami to continue his actions despite being accused of trying to kill his ex-wife. Four years ago, he faced charges of attempted murder, domestic abuse, threatening behavior, and poisoning. Additionally, his wife, Hasin Jahan, accused Shami’s brother of raping her at his parents’ home.

Shami refutes all allegations made against him. He referred to his wife as “malevolent” and “mentally unbalanced”. He was under close observation by his friends due to concerns for his well-being.

Twenty days prior to the start of the World Cup, Shami and his brother were granted bail by the court. As the tournament continued, Puma benefitted from the marketing value of having Shami wear their sports shoes. Hell Energy Drink, a major sponsor of Shami, stated that he is a true representation of India. Newspapers will refer to the allegations as a “divorce battle”. In a bizarre turn of events, the Delhi police posted a lighthearted message on social media to the Mumbai police, questioning why they did not arrest Shami for his alleged assault. This situation is ironic because he has been accused of attempted murder.

Moving on to Sunday, Shami’s achievements are intriguing not only in the realm of sports but also in the context of Test matches. His approach primarily involves using seam-up deliveries with occasional cutters. He has been lucky to step in after Jasprit Bumrah’s tight bowling and before Ravindra Jadeja’s similar pressure tactics.

However, this is essentially Shami’s individual efforts, a combination of talent and hard work, and a recognition of the complexity, proficiency, and enduring appeal of the most threatened format.

Source: theguardian.com