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It was one of the loudest pops in Dharamsala on Sunday. Mohammed Shami held the ball for the first time at this Cricket World Cup, scampered in from over the stumps, and then let go of a length ball with that picture perfect seam bolt upright. It would come into Will Young, who dragged it onto his stumps and pop. 10 Indian shirts converged in jubilation towards the middle of the 22-yard strip at the HPCA Stadium while one just raised his finger up. For Shami, who was benched for the previous four India games in the tournament, business looked as usual. It raised a pertinent question. Where was he all this time? Why didn’t the Indian management look at him as a first choice bowler from the very first game of the World Cup?

Shardul Thakur has been entrusted in place of the most-experienced new ball bowler in India’s World Cup squad to add an extra batting option. While his batting prowess is yet to be put under test at the marquee event, it’s the medium pacer’s returns with the ball that have been a bigger concern. “In the games that he played, we saw him as someone who certainly has a happy knack of taking wickets and then bowling those middle overs for us,” the head coach Rahul Dravid would say. That knack is yet to be seen with only two wickets from the 17 overs off his three outings at this World Cup. The economy rate has subsequently gone up from 5.16 to 6.00 to 6.55.

Follow all the action from the Cricket World Cup 2023 on our special World Cup section. You can also find the latest stats, like the top scorer and the highest wicket-taker of the current edition, upcoming World Cup fixtures and the points table on the site.

With Shami’s wall-breaking return, India find themselves at a crossroads. Do they persist with their talismanic seamer or opt for their only seam bowling all-rounder in the absence of Hardik Pandya, who is currently recovering from an ankle injury. Cut down on the runs or prioritize scoring them? With just a single outing at this World Cup, Shami makes a strong case for the former.

Ironically, it’s the absence of Pandya that made India shelve the only seaming allrounder in Shardul and go for Shami. It would make sense if it had happened the other way. Pandya’s absence made them swap out Shami for Shardul to boost the batting, but their thought process has been different.

Against New Zealand, Shami arrived for his first spell following a four-over burst from Jasprit Bumrah, to bowl in tandem with Mohammed Siraj. Together, the troika gave as few as 34 runs in the batting powerplay – third lowest at this World Cup. The reason behind it? Persistently pitching the ball in the 6-8m mark ahead of the stumps – 85 percent throughout the first 10 overs. Shami himself, landed 17 off his 24 deliveries in the good length region. This, on an atypical Dharamsala pitch without the grass covering and the characteristic nippy conditions.

“I bowled a good line and length and took whatever came my way,” Shami would put it afterwards. It’s been his stubbornness to opt for hard lengths that’s rewarded him even in the shortest format of the game. In the IPL this year, more than two-thirds of his 28 wickets had come off in the powerplay, where he’s relentless with ‘good line and length’.

However, the diversity in his arsenal was called for in the latter spells as a 159-run stand between Rachin Ravindra and Daryl Mitchell gave new life to a faltering Kiwi innings. The ball had gotten softer and the pitch, even less of an assist than it was in the opening spell. Ravindra had shown the temerity to play him cross batted in the first spell and got away with it. Taking a hint, Shami would take him out of the equation off another attempt. This time though, shortening the length and taking the pace off with a cutter. Miscued straight to long off.

Come the death overs, he’d pitch it up to clean house. Mitchell Santner, who has a particularly high backlift, stood no chance of bringing the bat down in time as Shami angled in a yorker from round the wicket to uproot the off stump. Matt Henry would lose his leg stump off the next one. This one, from the other side. Pitched slightly back – full and in the slot – it skidded before crashing onto the stump. Even Daryl Mitchell, who had batted 126 deliveries before, could only toe end his bat as Shami served him a full ball outside the off stump.

New Zealand, who were 174/2 with 16 overs to be played, could only add 99 more to their total as Shami and Co. switched lengths further up to cramp them of room in the death overs. It was what the Indian bowlers seemed to be missing in Pune. With Hardik Pandya ruled out midway through the innings, Rohit Sharma would be forced to extract more overs from Shardul Thakur than usual. Nine overs that costed India as many as 59 runs. Unlike Shami, Shardul’s lengths across both his different spells were far more scattered, making him far more predictable to batters on a flat deck.


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