<
>

Shami and Ishant - a tale of two bowlers

Mohammed Shami has rapidly taken over the mantle as the leader of India's pace attack Associated Press

Of the five bowlers India have used in the first two Tests of their West Indies tour, Mohammed Shami is the least experienced. He has also returned only recently from a long lay-off forced by a serious knee injury. But over the course of the series, he has become Virat Kohli's go-to quick bowler in every situation, be it to execute a specific plan to a specific batsman, such as his accurate and hostile use of the bouncer against Darren Bravo, or to come on and bowl with the new ball or a reverse-swinging old ball, or, simply, as the likeliest man to break a partnership.

He has become the leader of India's pace attack, taking over that mantle from Ishant Sharma, a man who has played 56 Tests more than him.

Shami did not take the new ball in West Indies' first innings in Antigua. That was understandable. He had not played Test cricket for over a year-and-a-half, and Ishant and Umesh Yadav were the incumbent quicks in the team.

But Shami's status in the attack changed almost as soon as he began his first spell of the series, in which he dismissed Rajendra Chandrika with an awkwardly rising away-seamer in the corridor. From that spell on, he has looked the most dangerous of India's three seamers every time India have bowled.

Of all of India's bowlers in the series, fast and slow, West Indies' batsmen have achieved their smallest control percentage - 77.05 - against Shami. While the number doesn't paint anything like the full picture of a bowler's effectiveness - West Indies have achieved a better control percentage against R Ashwin (81.25) than against Amit Mishra (79.47), for instance - it does suggest that Shami has kept asking them difficult questions.

One interesting number is West Indies' run rate against Shami when they have not been in control. Against him, they have scored at 3.33 runs per over off the balls that have had them in trouble. Against Ishant Sharma, their not-in-control run rate is 2.66, and against Umesh, it is 1.96.

This suggests that Shami has tended to find the edge where Ishant and Umesh have beaten it. In West Indies' second innings at Sabina Park, Shami conceded 11 fours, of which five came off genuine edges and two others off near-edges, from Jermaine Blackwood playing away from his body and slicing the ball wide of gully.

On that frustrating fifth day for India's bowlers, Shami was probably unlucky not to have taken a wicket or two.

Unless it's his injury record that's being talked about, Shami isn't generally spoken of as an unlucky bowler. Ishant, on the other hand, has been called that right through his 70-Test career. His unlucky spells, however, are usually characterised by batsmen playing and missing rather than edging and getting away with it.

Length has often been spoken of as Ishant's major issue, and it has been said that he would become a far more threatening bowler if he pitched the ball half a foot fuller. But in many of his spells, his line has also been half a foot too wide of off stump, allowing batsmen easy leaves outside off stump.

In this series, Ishant has seemed to bowl wider than ever. He probably isn't, but it has looked that way because he has often had Shami bowling at the other end and forcing batsmen to play. They have each sent down exactly the same number of overs in the series - 59 - but where batsmen have left 131 balls from Ishant, they have only managed to leave 87 from Shami.

Perhaps that is why Shami has eight wickets in the series, at an average of 24.62, and why Ishant only has four, at 45.00. Perhaps that is why Ishant, after 70 Tests, still averages 37.05.