Should Mohammed Shami be in India's starting XI for the World Cup?
Imagine being Mohammed Shami in the Indian setup of the 50-overs format. Despite doing everything, Shami still won’t start in the starting XI of the World Cup. As good as Shami with the ball is, he can’t bat, unfortunately.
In the first ODI, Shami got the chance ahead of Mohammed Siraj, who rested after his Asia Cup heroics. And he didn’t miss. Shami churned out his career-best performance to inflate India’s headache further.
Mohammed Shami hit the lengths precisely according to the match situation on a deck, providing grip to the bowlers. He swung the new ball early to dismiss Mitchell Marsh on just the fourth delivery of the game. Shami bowled on a good length that swung away just enough to take Marsh’s, who went with the hard hands, outside edge.
Shami’s superior skillsets were again visible as he returned for his second spell. On a tepid surface, Shami nipped one into Steven Smith with the famed upright seam, who went for a flashy drive to shatter his stumps. Shami stuck to the middle-stump line, and Marcus Stoinis, who looked to accelerate, missed the ball to give the bowler his third delivery of the day.
Shami then used a slower delivery into the pitch to remove Matthew Short, as the ball stopped a bit after landing. He again bowled one that gripped into the deck to dismiss Sean Abbott, who looked for an uppish drive to hand Shami a fifer. In his 10-over spell, Mohammed Shami had shown every trick up his sleeves.
Shami proved he is better than ever with the white ball, while the player he is competing with, Shardul Thakur, looked toothless despite the track helping his bowling style. Shami did everything with precision to show he is now an all-phase bowler. He moved in the air early on, generated movement off the track with a slightly old ball, and then used his cutters in the death to leave Australia clueless.
It's hard to imagine anyone doubting his capabilities after his IPL accomplishment, but even if anyone did, this spell would have mitigated each of them. Still, Shami wouldn’t play in the XI due to his inability with the willow. If Shami was even slightly better than his current version as a batter, he was in, undoubtedly.
Playing Shardul Thakur over Mohammed Shami is an understandable decision from the team management. The ever-waning batting expertise of Ravindra Jadeja is also a massive reason behind Shardul’s exclusion. Since 2022, Ravindra Jadeja has 177 runs at an average of 25.28, and his strike rate of 57.46 is atrocious for a No. 7 batter in the ODIs.
So, if Jadeja continues this form, India’s batting ends at No. 6 with Hardik Pandya. Even Hardik has struggled to get going or accelerate against the spinners at times since last year, but he is still better than anyone else. Now, the batting till No. 7 is already less depth-wise, and the mediocre run of Jadeja compels the team to slot in an extra cushion in the form of Shardul Thakur.
Shardul, at best, is the fifth-best seamer among the options for the World Cup team. Still, Thakur plays ahead of a seamer who is arguably the joint second-best quality-wise only because he can hold a bat. Even if the numbers are below par for a No. 8 in the ODIs, India are leaving out Shami’s quality.
Since 2022, Shardul averages 15.85 and strikes at 92.88; these numbers suit a No. 9 at best. Shardul, who went for 78 in an innings where no other bowler went for even six per over, might start in the first game of the World Cup even if he concedes as many - or more - in the remaining two games. India are helpless, given the three premium pacers are barely reliable with the willow, even after Jasprit Bumrah's recent batting development.
To India’s misery, Mohammed Shami is bowling better than he has all these years in colourful jerseys. His performance in the first ODI wasn't worthless, for it will definitely push the team management to rethink the combinations. Shami might not feature regularly, but whenever he does, the results will undeniably be fruitful like they were in Mohali.