Watch out for Shami when he's running in like a horse

A former India bowling coach runs the rule over India's most impressive bowler this World Cup

Bharat Arun
Spot the runaway horse in this picture  •  Associated Press

Spot the runaway horse in this picture  •  Associated Press

Bharat Arun was India's bowling coach for two stints between 2013 and 2021. A former Tamil Nadu and India fast bowler, he played a significant role in India developing one of the most rounded and successful fast bowling groups across formats in the 2010s and after.
I remember Mohammed Shami saying once, "I need to run in like a horse to be successful." All this World Cup, Shami has been running in - galloping, you could say - fluently, with an amazing rhythm that complements his bowling skills.
Fast bowling is all about a feeling inside that drives the bowler to run in with rhythm and confidence, which in turn enable him to pull off special feats. Shami is being driven by that feeling now.
With the kind of momentum he builds in his run-up, and his smooth, repetitive action, he has been able to pitch the ball like he is skimming a flat stone on water, skidding through batters' defences.
The best example is the mouth-watering ten-ball spell he delivered to Ben Stokes in Lucknow two weeks ago, easily one of the most memorable passages of play at this World Cup.
Shami was bowling his first over, the sixth of the England innings. Stokes had come in after England had lost Dawid Malan and Joe Root to consecutive balls from Jasprit Bumrah in the previous over.
The first five balls he faced from Shami, Stokes was beaten four times, outside off, and hit on the pads once. The next two balls he got his bat to, but no runs came off them. He was beaten outside off again the following delivery.
There were various factors at play that made the pressure mount on Stokes. When the batter is standing deep in the crease, like Stokes was, he allows the ball to move more after pitching. Also, the length that Shami was bowling, he was going to hit the stumps more often than not. Most times when that is the case, the ball is skidding onto the batter rather than bouncing as such, because of the angle and trajectory at which the ball is being delivered.
Stokes thought that by attacking Shami, as he attempted to do, he might force him to alter his length. When a batter is charging, though, in such situations, it is usually because he is uncomfortable. Shami will have understood the lengths he was pitching were troubling Stokes. Most bowlers in such situations would think to go shorter when the batter charges them. That lets the batter win the battle.
Shami, though, saw that Stokes was looking to clear his front leg to hit over the 30-yard circle, so he could break out of survival mode. He stuck to his plan of bowling wide of the crease, cramping Stokes for space and forcing him to become increasingly desperate. The tenth ball was pitched fuller. It skidded on faster and went on to break the stumps.
Using his fantastic run-up, Shami is able to exploit different angles while delivering from various points on the bowling crease. This is a special skill. A fast bowler with an uncoordinated run-up will struggle to utilise the crease, unlike Shami, who makes the most of the crease to cleverly vary his delivery angle.
Shami has the best seam position at release I have seen apart from Sreesanth's. It's absolutely straight. Coupled with that, it's very difficult to predict which way the ball will move after pitching. Movement off the wicket is harder for a batter to counter than movement in the air. For the latter, expert batters are able to look at the position of the seam and often correctly predict the swing. With movement off the pitch, the further up the ball pitches, the less time a batter has to respond.
The seam position depends on the position of the bowler's wrist at release, which in turn depends on how far the arm is from the head laterally at the point of delivery. Bowlers who can swing the ball both ways have a subtle change of arm position: when they want to bowl outswing, their arm is slightly further away from the head than when they bowl inswing, for which the arm is as close to the head as possible. It's difficult for a batter to read these changes in arm position because the difference is tiny.
In Shami's case, he has a high-arm action. With that and the straighter seam when he pitches really full, the ball tends to move very late upon pitching. And he also induces the batter to offer false shots with such a tempting length.
Two dismissals I can think of that illustrate this are of Shai Hope in the 2019 World Cup, and Angelo Mathews in this World Cup, in Mumbai.
Hope thought the ball was up there to drive, lunged forward and was beaten by the slight movement inwards. The ball burst through the narrow gap between bat and pad and hit the stumps. With Mathews, he too was shaping for the drive, but off the back foot, and he was beaten by the inward movement.
Another skill Shami has is in effecting lethal movement with small changes in the orientation of the seam. If the seam is tilted slightly inwards, towards fine leg for the right-hand batter, it will usually cut in off the wicket, and if it's tilted slightly outwards, towards slip, the ball will either maintain its line or move outwards. This is something he works on for precision regularly in training.
His other big strength is, he brings his Test match mentality to ODIs. He has always been convinced that Test match lengths are good enough for ODIs - of course, outside of the death overs, where variations come into play.
In the past, Shami would occasionally lose patience and slide one in straighter prematurely in a sequence of balls outside off angling away. But now his motive is to enjoy testing the batter, to make run-scoring difficult while not being bothered about the wickets column.
Even against the tail, he continues to stick with his lengths. This has helped him become one of the highest wicket-takers across the last two World Cups.
I haven't spoken to Shami this World Cup, but I can see him totally enjoying his bowling. The only message I have for him is: Shami, tu ekdum ghode ki tarah bhaag raha hain jis tarah se tu bowling kar raha hain. [You are running in like a horse.] Just go and enjoy yourself.

Bharat Arun spoke to Nagraj Gollapudi, ESPNcricinfo's news editor