India v West Indies, 1st Test, Kolkata, 1st day November 6, 2013

Shami's swing the revelation

N Hunter
Mohammed Shami relied on his strength - swing - to fetch four wickets on debut. His contest against the best West Indies batsman was the most compelling

Marlon Samuels had only just arrived at the crease when he faced against Mohammed Shami. He pitched it on a good length on the off stump. The ball was moving at a good pace and Samuels was lured into playing it, but was completely squared up as the ball moved away from him late. Samuels had decided to withdraw his bat at the very last instant. He hopped on his toes, raising an appreciative glance at Shami.

In the one-on-one contests drawn up on the eve of the Test, Shami v Samuels was never one of them. One big reason was, as MS Dhoni had pointed out on Tuesday afternoon, India had not worked out their bowling combination. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had booked his berth considering he has shown the consistency to move the new ball early and he proved his worth when he quickly sent back his bunny Chris Gayle.

The choice of the second fast bowler was a fight between Umesh Yadav and Shami, considering Ishant Sharma's shoddy form in the seven-match ODI series against Australia. If pace was the sole criterion, Yadav would have clinched the spot, but Shami can also swing the ball both ways. Also, there was the X-factor in his favour - West Indies had not seen much of Shami other than his bowling in the ODIs since his debut in January this year.

Two days before the Test, he had teamed up with Bhuvneshwar and troubled the batsmen in the nets with his movement. Having earned his debut, he had to transport that same momentum in a Test match. Playing in front of home fans is never easy as the expectations are more. Sachin Tendulkar's farewell drawing all the attention may have helped Shami to quietly get on with his job without many nerves.

Shami's biggest impact came when India changed the ball in the 41st over. Immediately, Dhoni brought Shami the next over. Before the ball change, Shami's figures were 7-1-39-1. After the change it was an impressive 10-1-49-3.

Even before the ball change, Shami was smart to detect Kieran Powell's urgency to step on the gas too early. Powell had scored a couple of boundaries in Bhuvneshwar's previous over. So on the second delivery of his second spell, Shami produced a shoulder-high bouncer that climbed fast on Powell, who had decided to pull it, which only proved fatal.

However, Shami reserved his best for the best West Indies batsman on the day: Samuels. The Jamaican had raced to a half-century with powerful drives and lofts against both fast and slow bowling. But as soon as Shami started to reverse swing the ball, he instantly looked dangerous. Even Samuels, one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year in 2012, was finding it hard to guess which way the ball was going to move. Before the ball change, Samuels had scored 19 runs from 13 balls from Shami. After the change he managed just five runs off 11 deliveries.

Shami learned the art of working on the ball in his native Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh where he would request coaches to hand him used balls, which he would take home and shine and then get it to reverse. Having honed the art from his Under-16 days, Shami reversed the ball at will effortlessly today.

Every performance has a signature. Shami's was to keep things simple, in addition to utilising the experience of playing on his home ground. The Eden Gardens pitch, even the re-laid one, has not favoured the fast bowlers too much. So Shami has had to rely on other factors to get his wickets in the time he has been playing for Bengal in the last three years.

Accuracy, allied with movement and good pace can be a lethal combination in a fast bowler. Shami added control to that today. He maintained an off-stump line as far as possible and that exact length, which is not too full, not too short, was too tempting for the batsmen.

Shami said that he had mentally prepared himself on Tuesday evening for the big day. Reflecting on his various spells, Shami said the new ball swung less for him the morning. "The first ball before the change was swinging a little less, and it was a bit soft. After it was changed, it was swinging and reversing well," Shami said.

According to Shami, most of the West Indies batsmen did not show the right mindset to play out time and that helped him settle down and bowl to his strengths. "They just didn't care about Test cricket. In my view, they played their strokes continuously. So it becomes easy for me, that I'd get them if they play strokes against me," he said.

Shami's figures of 4 for 71 are the third-best by an Indian fast bowler in his debut innings, after Mohammad Nissar and Venkatesh Prasad. But you cannot forecast a future on 17 overs. At tea, as the Indians walked towards the dressing room, everyone looked towards Tendulkar to cross the ropes first. But Tendulkar insisted Shami lead the team back.