Shami played through pain at World Cup
Mohammed Shami, who has been out of action since the World Cup, has revealed that he bowled through pain and injury during the tournament, and that the discomfort in his left knee began as early as during the first Test of India's tour of Australia. That Test match was played from December 9 to 13. India's last match in the country, the World Cup semi-final, was played on March 26. Between the two matches, swelling on Shami's knee kept making repeat appearances.
Shami, who has since had a surgery and is currently undergoing rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, is unlikely to be match-fit in time for India's tour of Sri Lanka in late July.
Two days before every World Cup match Shami would have fluids sucked out of the knee, then practise on the day before the match, and then play. India didn't want to risk the momentum they had built, Shami says. He himself didn't want to let the team down. After a point Shami was sure he would have to sit out for a long time so he pushed himself as far as he could. The prize in sight was too tempting to not go for, and Shami has statistically been one of the best ODI bowlers in the world over the last 18 months.
It was a bit of a vicious cycle: Shami was critical to India's success; the better he did, the more confidence India gained, the more they didn't want to risk changing the winning combination, the worse the injury got. Shami was India's second-highest wicket-taker at the World Cup, with 17 scalps at 17.29 and an economy rate of 4.81. Had he not sat out of the UAE game, he would have had every chance of taking more wickets than Umesh Yadav's 18.
Now Shami has had to undergo a surgery. For 40 days he was on crutches. Only about the time India left for Bangladesh could he stand on his legs again. Now he is walking and jogging lightly. He says his progress has surprised the doctors, who were expecting him to only now begin walking. The real test, though, will be when he starts running again. How the knee responds to that running will decide how long it takes him to be back on the cricket field. If it heals at a miraculous pace he could be ready for the Sri Lanka tour, but that won't be a realistic expectation.
The trouble all began when he landed funnily in his bowling stride during the second innings of the Adelaide Test. "I was landing in the exact same spot as the Australian spinner [Nathan Lyon] did," Shami told ESPNcricinfo. "That landing spot was up and down. It resulted in swelling. It kept on getting worse, but in the end it came to a stage during the World Cup where I found the momentum and the team found the momentum, and we didn't want to lose that. When we came back from the World Cup, then we did proper tests and found there was a tear in the knee."
Shami then missed the Brisbane Test, but the team management kept the news of the injury to itself. When Shami came back for the Melbourne Test, he did so in place of the bereaved Varun Aaron, who went back to India. Shami proceeded to play the Sydney Test, and also all the four ODIs in the triangular series.
When asked if he could have rested and limited the damage, Shami said, "It was difficult to rest. We were struggling during the triangular series. And World Cup lay ahead. The way be began against Pakistan, we didn't want to lose that momentum. The only chance I got to rest was against UAE, and I took it."
The day before Shami rested for the UAE game, the team management for the first time mentioned an injury, and it sounded pretty serious despite the use of the word "mild". "Mohammed Shami has got mild left knee problem and had ultrasound guided-injection yesterday for his long-term management perspective," BCCI's media release said. "He won't be available for tomorrow's match against the UAE."
Shami explained how India went about it match by match. "The doctors with us had told me what is happening now had to happen at some point," Shami said. "So they would see if I could play despite that, if I could work hard despite that, and then they would clear me for the match. And what has happened now would have happened earlier too."
Even though Shami kept recovering temporarily, he knew through the scans after the third Test that his injury was going to ultimately result in a long break. A break he finds hard to endure. "It is very frustrating," he said. "To watch all the players play the IPL and you are sitting at home and watching on TV. That is one of the most difficult things to do for a player. Yet you have to realise that injuries are a fact of a sportsman's life. You have to keep that in mind. It was tough, it is tough, and now I am just waiting to get back on to the field."
Had India won the World Cup this would have been a much-celebrated story, like the ones that emerged after 2011. India haven't. They have even lost an ODI series in Bangladesh. However, Shami's part in the run to the semi-finals, the pain he played through, should not be forgotten.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo