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Match Analysis

Shami turns jeopardy into joy as India briefly confront their own mortality

Just as 33,000 people began to fear Shami might have dropped the World Cup, he came back with a fiery spell for the ages

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Jasprit Bumrah couldn't bear to look. As he covered his mouth and his eyes with both hands, his expression mirrored that of 33,000 Indian fans at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium and tens, if not hundreds of millions more around this vast country. Had Mohammed Shami just dropped the World Cup?
For the first time in five-and-a-half weeks, since their top-order collapse against Australia in Chennai, India's progress was in jeopardy. The group stages quickly became a victory tour around the country: another city, another opponent, another win. With 397 on the board, this semi-final seemed like a mere extension of their procession.
But under the floodlights on Marine Drive, India started to stutter. It had only taken Shami ten balls to remove both openers, but Kane Williamson and Daryl Mitchell got through the twilight zone that has killed chasing teams at the Wankhede in this World Cup, looked India in the eye and asked if they had the minerals for a knockout game.
They blinked: Ravindra Jadeja overstepped. Suryakumar Yadav misfielded. KL Rahul was beaten by the late-swinging ball, conceding five wides and four byes. Jadeja fielded off his own bowling, then pinged the ball past Rahul straight to the boundary. Rahul broke the stumps without the ball in his gloves, while gathering a throw from Shami at point which might have run Williamson out.
New Zealand found their range: Williamson latched onto Kuldeep Yadav's drag-downs, and Mitchell popped four clean, straight sixes back over bowlers' heads: Shami once, and Jadeja three times. Their partnership was worth 141 by the time Rohit Sharma brought Bumrah back for his second spell, and the sold-out crowd had hardly made a squeak for 90 minutes.
Five balls into his comeback over, Bumrah drew a mistake. His back-of-a-length slower ball seemed to stick in the pitch and sat up tantalisingly for Williamson, who pulled cross-batted, hard and flat to mid-on. The ball hung in the air just long enough for Bumrah to turn towards Shami in anticipation, and for those watching to feel their chest tighten.
Shami snatched at it: the ball burst through his reverse-cup, clanging off his right hand and hitting the turf. He puffed his cheeks and scrambled back to retrieve the ball, and Williamson had a life on 52. "I felt terrible," he later said. Those nine group-stage wins counted for nothing now: India were being confronted with their own mortality.
Shami had three overs to dwell on his mistake. He watched Williamson slog-sweep Kuldeep over the leg side and Mitchell reverse-sweep him for four; he stood at fine leg as Mitchell pumped Bumrah over long-off, then at long leg while Williamson punched him through the off side. The equation looked increasingly feasible: when Shami returned to bowl, New Zealand needed 179 more off 18 overs.
The second ball of his comeback spell was innocuous enough: an 84mph slot ball, sliding into Williamson's pads. He flicked it out into the deep, but without quite middling the ball. Suryakumar settled underneath it at deep backward square leg and as the crowd broke from their collective vow of silence, Shami's relief was palpable.
That brought Tom Latham in at No. 5. Shami's early dismissals of Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra, both caught behind off balls from around the wicket that angled in and then straightened just enough to take the outside edge, had brought his stellar record against left-handers at this World Cup into light: Latham was just another for him to dismiss.
Shami has bowled 52 balls to left-handers at this World Cup, 51 of them from around the wicket: he now averages 4 against them. He bowls from so wide on the crease that his front foot lands only a few inches inside the return crease and the angle is almost unplayable: his natural length is too full to cut or pull, but too short to drive, and any hint of movement either way is killer.
Latham lasted two balls, pinned by a nip-backer that had him so plumb, he barely stopped to consider a review. This time, Shami was overcome by the moment, punching the air and clenching his fists as his whole body contorted in celebration. In three balls, he had turned 220 for 2 into 220 for 4, and turned jeopardy into joy.
Shami returned at the death to put the final touches on India's win: he held his arms aloft as Mitchell holed out to deep midwicket, and had Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson caught behind. He finished with seven wickets, the first time an Indian bowler had achieved that feat in a men's ODI.
When Mitchell became Shami's fifth victim, the blue shirts in the Dilip Vengsarkar Stand started to chant his name. Virat Kohli, walking back into position at long-off, asked for more, waving his arms to gee them up and himself applauding in Shami's direction. If they came thinking of Kohli, they left thinking of Shami.
A month ago, Shami wasn't in the India team, squeezed out in pursuit of balance; on Thursday, he will travel to Ahmedabad for the final as the leading wicket-taker at the World Cup, with 23 in six games
This was a gesture with an undertone of solidarity. As India's captain, Kohli made a point of speaking out publicly when Shami was the victim of Islamophobic online abuse in the T20 World Cup two years ago: his expensive spells - and his dropped catches - bring different consequences to most of his team-mates.
A month ago, Shami wasn't in the India team, squeezed out in pursuit of balance; on Thursday, he will travel to Ahmedabad for the final as the leading wicket-taker at the World Cup, with 23 in six games. Another performance like this one, and he may well bring their decade-long wait for a major trophy to an end.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98