Tracing back Mohammed Shami's resurgence
Crash and bang. The off stump was sent cartwheeling. It was a fast bowler's dream.
Faf du Plessis, gasping in utter disbelief, could only manage a wry smile after shouldering arms to a jagging nip-backer from Mohammed Shami. The experienced campaigner reluctantly lumbered off the field, undone by the sheer brilliance of the hostile quick.
Watching Shami bowl in full flow is pure joy. He steams in like a quintessential pacer, releasing the cherry with a seam presentation that could put veteran Jimmy Anderson to shame.
The pace is right up there in the 140s. The ball is methodically pitched fuller to entice the drive. The immaculate line gives absolutely nothing away. The snaring bumper can deflate egos. And that's not to forget the prodigious movement he extracts off the deck, eventually forcing the opposition batsman into submission.
But flashbacks of an exhausted Shami panting while trudging back to his run-up mark or being dispatched to every corner of the ground by rampant pinch-hitters are still fresh in our memories. In hindsight, life hasn't been particularly generous towards Shami in recent years.
Frequent allegations of domestic violence by now estranged wife Hasin Jahan wreaked havoc on his personal life even as his cricketing graph began to suffer the repercussions. Consequently, his efficiency in the longest version of the game suffered an appreciable plunge, while he barely held on to his place in the one-day format.
Shami featured in just five ODI matches between the end of the 2015 World Cup and January 2019. Enduring a tumultuous period, Shami's weight reached an alarming 93 kg, which is considerably higher than the ideal for a professional athlete.
Constantly battling family issues, Shami flunked the yo-yo test before the Afghanistan Test match, which is a rigorous parameter for selection into the national team. India's strength and conditioning coach Shankar Basu perceived the failure as a "blessing in disguise".
“After that, he was a changed man. Shami was so determined to become fit." Basu reflected. Amidst the socio-personal turbulence, the eye-opener for Shami, the fast bowler, had finally arrived.
The emphasis lay in inculcating fitness into his lifestyle. Sweets and bread disappeared off the plate. The entire training regimen underwent a metamorphosis, watchfully supervised by Basu.
The Indian paceman adhered to the concept of intermittent fasting which involved eating light nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch or skipping them altogether, followed by measured caloric intake throughout the day.
Plucking a leaf out of captain Virat Kohli's book, Shami's gym sessions comprised of Herculean exercises like deadlift, clean and jerk push, hip thrust and barbell snatch, mixed with plyometric motions - all aimed at reducing body fat percentage.
The grueling regimen produced fantastic results as Shami dropped 18 kg, transforming into a far leaner person.
Meanwhile, Shami worked relentlessly under the guidance of bowling coach Bharat Arun to increase his accuracy and maintain tight channels with the new ball. He also worked on the precision of his yorkers at the death and on developing additional variations.
The difference soon became evident. Shami, after breezing through the mandatory fitness test, bowled 172.4 overs in England without breaking a sweat - a testimony to the diligent hard work he had put in behind the scenes.
Missing just one fixture out of the 14 Tests India played in the 2018-19 calendar, Shami continued to impress with his newfound control and fitness. Bagging 16 wickets in 4 Tests on an arduous tour Down Under, he stood on the verge of conquering the white-ball domain.
India's tour of New Zealand proved to be even better for the Indian speedster. Running in with ferocious intensity, Shami painstakingly hovered around the fourth stump line, troubling Martin Guptill and Colin Munro with swing early on while finding the block-hole to perfection at the death.
Leading the pace battery in the absence of spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, Shami concluded the Kiwi assignment with 9 wickets in 4 ODIs at a terrific economy rate of 4.75. That prompted head coach Ravi Shastri to declare him as the biggest positive from the tour of the island nation.
Shami was making all the right noises at the opportune time, presenting a strong case for himself to board the flight to England as a third seamer for the World Cup. Kohli was all praises for his teammate who had made a blazing resurgence to the Indian limited-overs set-up.
"The way Shami has come back into the white-ball set-up after his Test performances, have never seen him so lean before. He has lost five-six kilos. He's running in and bowling so well. He's hungry for wickets," a happy Indian skipper exclaimed at a post-match presser in March 2019.
Leading into the mega event, Shami was posed with the challenge of managing his workload during the Indian Premier League. Clearing the hurdle unscathed, Shami produced a strong stint for the Kings XI Punjab, where he picked 19 wickets in 14 matches.
The rest, as they say, is history. The success Shami has achieved in the last few months stands testimony to his unwavering belief and willingness to grind.
Shami claimed 14 wickets in just four appearances at the showpiece event, including a memorable hat-trick against Afghanistan. His exploits took him to unprecedented heights - all achieved over the course of a quarter.
Every time Shami breaches through the defences of a hapless batsman with his zipping pace, you are reminded of the work he has put in to get to this stage. Shami is a classic example of how much can be achieved with sheer hard work.