Shami aims to put injury frustration behind
Of the four players lined up for a joint media interaction ahead of the Indian team's departure to Australia, Mohammed Shami came across as the most badass.
He and three others - Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Umesh Yadav - trotted out in suits, as did the rest of the team and the support staff later on Tuesday evening during the BCCI awards ceremony. But while the other three's placid demeanour at the press conference was complimented by their well-groomed appearance, Shami wore a rugged beard, which had a sprinkling of silver. His was a restless, even mischievous, presence. The first few questions of the session didn't involve Shami, and he amused himself by either tugging at his already loosened necktie or leaning to his right to share a joke with Umesh.
He would soon be confronted with serious questions, though. There was the inevitable one about his knee injury, which had kept him out of international cricket for nearly a year following the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. After his knee swelled up during the Adelaide Test in December 2014, Shami had played through injury during the World Cup, aware that he would have to go under the knife at some point. He tried to push his body to its limits, and in the process even had fluids extracted from his knee two days before each game.
He described injuries as an "irritating cheez [things]", and hoped - rather wishfully for a fast bowler - to never get injured again. There was a particularly lengthy follow up question that elicited a chuckle from him: "Bahut lamba savaal kiya [you have asked me a very long question]." However, he switched to a serious tone in a matter of seconds, as he elaborated upon the "toughest time of my life".
"The doctor had told me not to get out of bed for two months [after the operation]," he said. "I was only allowed to get up from my bed and go to the bathroom. Zameen par pair nahin rakh sakte ho [I couldn't even keep my feet on the ground]. The biggest blow was I couldn't play."
Shami said that his only interactions during the period were with his wife, parents, brother and sister-in-law. It was only when he met his 'band of brothers' - a phrase repeatedly used to describe the India team at the BCCI awards - before the tour of Bangladesh that he felt optimism course through him again.
"When I finally started walking without crutches, and met the team before the tour of Bangladesh, I felt like I was alive again," he recounted with palpable emotion. "That I was connecting with the world again. In those two months, I had not even seen the dining room [of my house]. I feel the period after the injury is very tough for any player, and you need great mental strength to overcome it."
Shami also spoke about the "achcha [good] feel" that came with reconnecting with cricket in any way possible, be it seeking out doctors for inputs or resuming light running and training. Despite being named in the 30-member preparatory camp ahead of the South Africa series, Shami was eventually deemed not fit enough to play. He continued to work on his rehabilitation and eventually found a place in Bengal's squad for the Vijay Hazare Trophy where he picked up three wickets in two games and followed it up with five wickets in two Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 matches.
"I had not played for a long time and the entire team was playing, so I was missing it a lot. It was very important for me to get back my rhythm and play a few matches," Shami said. "I wanted to start from where I had left off before my injury. I was feeling comfortable as I was able to bowl with the same pace, and hit the same line and length."
India captain MS Dhoni indicated that Shami was part of his plans for the World T20, and said he would look to manage his workload carefully during the Australia series. "Shami has been a very good bowler for us, especially if you see the period before he got injured," Dhoni said. "He has been equally effective for us with the new ball, in the middle overs and in the death. He has been quite consistent in his performance, and has worked really hard during his rehab. It will be interesting to see how he shapes up."
Shami, though, had by the end of the press conference returned to his prankster avatar, and was sharing a laugh with Umesh while still fidgeting with his tie. Shami was asked if he was comfortable wearing a suit and tie. "Bilkul [of course]," he replied before attracting Umesh's attention. "Bhaiya pooch rahen he ki mujhe suit pehan na achcha lagta hai [he is asking me if I like wearing a suit]," he told Umesh. "Hum toh is mein bilkul gentleman lagte hain [I look like a gentleman in this attire]."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo