From being depressed to a champion bowler: How Bharat Arun, Ravi Shastri turned Shami’s career

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Mohammad Shami was the pick of the bowlers for India, taking five wickets for 44 runs in 16 overs as the visitors took a 130-run first-innings lead after bowling out South Africa for 197 in the final session on day three of the first Test on Tuesday.

In the process, he became just the 11th Indian bowler to claim 200 wickets in Test cricket and the fifth pacer behind Kapil Dev, Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, and Javagal Srinath. Incidentally, Shami’s five-for on Tuesday was his sixth in Test cricket and only his second in the first innings.

Mohammad Shami Mohammad Shami joins an elite list of fast bowlers. (Screengrab)

Shami dismissed Rabada to complete his five-wicket haul and also reached the 200-wicket milestone in his 55th Test match and also took the fewest balls (9896) to reach the milestone.

For someone who makes bowling look so easy, right from his release till the time the ball goes and hits the stump, Shami has delivered consistently in big moments for his team.

While Shami has grown in stature, his journey from Sahaspur to the Indian dressing room has seen a lot of ups and downs as he went through injuries, dip in form, criticisms, and personal issues as well. But it was his passion and the continued guidance under former India head coach Ravi Shastri and bowling coach Bharat Arun that kept his passion alive.

In an earlier interview with The Indian Express, Arun had recalled how Shami was literally down in the dumps and had even thought of quitting the game.

“Shami was totally disillusioned. He was on the verge of giving up the game. When Ravi and I sat down with him, he said he was “extremely angry with life” and “I want to give it up”. We said, ‘it’s good that you are angry. You should be. Angry is best thing that has happened to you.’ He looked at us quizzically – what are these guys saying?! We told him, ‘You are a fast bowler; anger isn’t bad! Let’s get the bitterness out of it. Life has turned you into a very angry man, but what are you going to do now? You can quit, that’s your choice but you can also tell yourself that I am angry, how do I channelise it?,” Arun had said.

“We told him, “Tu shareer pay dhyan de. (Focus on your body, fitness). Go for one month to NCA (National Cricket Academy) and beat your body into shape. Take out the anger there. No arguments there, you do whatever is told to you.” He went and worked like a manic bull, I hear, and I remember him telling me, “mere itna taaqat badh gaya ki (I have gained so much strength) I can take on the world!,” added Arun.

“He was a strong guy and that anger phase actually helped him turn into something better. Whatever anger he had, he transformed into his bowling. You don’t have to be bull- headed aggressive, but controlled aggression is the key. His personality anyway doesn’t make him too aggressive; so a bit of anger was good as it pumped him up. No more laxity, no more ‘daalke dekhten hai, kya hota hai (let’s bowl and see what happens). He was now focused and ready each time at the top of his run-up. He was a true fast bowler now.”

“He is a rhythm bowler and it was clear that his entire bowling depends on the kind of run-up he generates. It wasn’t about just running in fast. You run in fast enough so that you are absolutely balanced at the moment of delivery at the crease. For him, that was the key. When he was imbalanced, the transfer of force into the momentum of the delivery was lost. What’s the point in running fast and being imbalanced; the energy transfer goes down the drain. It was finding what’s the optimal speed of running to create momentum, but to help Shami hold balance. We explained the importance of this to Shami. Sometimes, too long a stride also affects the bowling. Sometimes he could do that. No point in being very stable also if you are not able to generate force. So, we tried it out to find his optimal. No point in talking too much technique to him, ‘let’s do it and give feedback about what you feel’. Trial and error works.”

“This can’t happen if he doesn’t trust and is willing to do hard work. He was. There were people who had told him – ‘don’t change anything, work with what got you here’ – which is sound advice, of course, but where is the growth unless you try, especially when one isn’t talking about big changes? He was ready as he learned to trust.”

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