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Mohammed Shami cracks the IPL code

His longer-format skills haven't always translated to T20 success, but he's raised his game to a new level this season

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Mohammed Shami sends one down, Delhi Capitals vs Kings XI Punjab, IPL 2020, Dubai, October 20, 2020

Mohammed Shami sends one down  •  BCCI

As a T20 death bowler, Mohammed Shami has his limitations. Unlike Jasprit Bumrah, he has an orthodox action. Unlike Mitchell Starc, he doesn't bowl left-arm. Unlike Jofra Archer, he doesn't bowl 150kph. Unlike Kagiso Rabada, his hard lengths tend to skid on because of his height. Unlike Dwayne Bravo, he doesn't have fancy slower balls or the experience of having bowled in a million T20 leagues. Unlike in ODI cricket, the ball hardly reverses in 20-overs cricket. Shami's predicament in the shortest format is not too different to Test legend Dale Steyn's: take away some swing, add some seam, you have Shami.
With that little going for him, Shami is still the Kings XI Punjab's lead bowler. In a way, on the surface, Shami's shortcomings show in the team's overall results. In this IPL, one of his better years, Shami has conceded 12.60 per over in the death (last four) overs of innings. That's the fifth-worst economy rate among those who have bowled at least five overs in that phase. And yet, Shami has been an essential part of the revival of the Kings XI's campaign, which features wins over the top three sides in their last three games.
In the match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Shami contributed with the wicket of AB de Villiers, who had been held back because of the presence of two legspinners in the Kings XI attack. When the Royal Challengers felt the match-ups were right, though, Shami got de Villiers out with a slower short ball.
Against the Mumbai Indians, Shami got the big wicket of Hardik Pandya with a hard-length ball in the 16th over, thus limiting the damage at the end of the innings. He conceded just 15 in his last two overs, the 16th and the 19th. And then he returned to bowl a Super Over for the ages with six yorkers to defend just five runs and take the match into the second Super Over, which the Kings XI won.
Against the Delhi Capitals, Shami bowled the 18th and the 20th, conceding just 13 runs, taking out Marcus Stoinis with an attempted yorker and Shimron Hetmyer with a perfect one. The Capitals eventually ended short of a challenging total by ten runs, by the estimation of their captain Shreyas Iyer.
It's not just his economy of late, but also the wickets that Shami has been taking, which has helped take the heat off the other overs. He has taken nine wickets at the death in this IPL, behind only Rabada's 11. It can be argued Rabada benefits from the pressure created by his excellent bowling unit whereas Shami's wickets actually buy his colleagues some relief. Let us be wary of over-estimating the worth of wickets at the death, because teams keep on hitting regardless, but you are still better off - even if slightly - bowling to batsmen who are not de Villiers, Pandya, Stoinis or Hetmyer.
Shami has turned it around with yorkers. Not even counting the six he nailed in the Super Over against Mumbai Indians, Shami has bowled a higher percentage of yorkers than Bumrah, Archer or Rabada. Only T Natarajan has bowled more yorkers than Shami at the death this IPL. And this is going by the definition of the yorker according to the pitch maps: within two metres of the stumps. Sometimes a batsman is charging at you, and you shorten the length to york him, which then ends up being counted as a slot ball. Shami has a few there that have resulted in dots or singles.
The yorker is a risky delivery, which is why it is tried so rarely. The margin for error for someone like Bumrah is greater than that for Shami. The Super Over is a good example, where Bumrah got away with two full-tosses because his action gives you less time to react. Shami had to get each one of his yorkers right.
If you look at overall numbers and not just the death overs, Shami has had an impressive IPL. For starters, he has bowled hardly any easy overs: all but 36 of his deliveries have been bowled in the powerplay or at the death. That is why his economy rate of 8.43 needs to be put in perspective. Let our Smart Stats do it for you. His Smart Economy rate is 7.5; among those who have bowled at least 20 overs in this IPL, only six seamers have done better. Add to it 16 wickets, not one of which is of a tailender. That is why his Smart Wickets tally is greater than Rabada's; at 18.74, it is only behind Archer's 18.83.
Shami has not gone into the off-season and added a new ball or remodelled his action or approach. Perhaps he has practised his yorkers more this year. Perhaps this being the only cricket for a major part of this year has helped him. Perhaps the slower nature of the pitches in the UAE has given him a slightly bigger margin for error, and thus more confidence and clarity, to go for the yorkers. However, it seems the biggest difference is that he has been allowed to take absolute charge of his bowling. You look at KL Rahul, his captain, and you know there is zero micromanagement. Rahul's interview after that Mumbai match said as much: Shami said he wanted to bowl six yorkers, and Rahul just discussed the fields with him.
Shami has responded well to the responsibility. If the Kings XI continue to bat as well as they have in the last three games - especially the chaos that Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran have introduced to the middle overs - Shami and their death bowling remain key to their qualification chances. So far, Shami the death bowler has been the revelation of this IPL, but the test of all these revelations lies in over-exposure. We will know in the coming games, but to carry an attack such as Kings XI's this far is an achievement that should not be written off.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo