The short ball that slammed into Mohammed Shami’s arm caused him so much pain that he could hardly “lift his arm,” according to India captain Virat Kohli. Though BCCI is yet to make an official announcement, reports said scans have shown Shami has suffered a fracture on his right forearm, ruling him out of the rest of the series.
The injury simply added yet another problem for the Indian team management, now left with only four fast bowlers for the rest of the tour: Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, and the uncapped duo of Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj.
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India does have the option, of course, to replace Shami in the squad with one of the three net bowlers who are in Australia with the team: Thangarasu Natarajan, who made both his T20 and ODI debut during the tour, Shardul Thakur and Kartik Tiyagi, a 20-year-old rookie who has just two first class matches under his belt.
Shami’s absence will hit Ajinkya Rahane, captain for the rest of the series after Kohli left the tour to attend to the birth of his first child, very hard. The vaunted bowling attack that paved the way for India’s historic series win in 2018-19 in Australia had already arrived for this tour with bad news, when their most experienced member, Ishant Sharma, had been ruled out due to an injury suffered during the IPL.
Shami was the next most experienced with 50 Tests; during that 2018-19 tour, he was also the second most successful bowler, picking up 16 wickets to Bumrah’s table-topping 21.
If Bumrah spearheaded the attack with his raw pace and his ability to generate difficult angles and variations with his unique action, Shami was the master of seam movement.
With a focussed approach on fitness in the last couple of years, the 30-year-old added some extra pace too, which made him even more effective. The second Test of the 2018-19 tour in Perth was a showcase for the new and improved Shami, when he made the Australian top-order dance to his short balls on way to scalping 6/56, his best ever figures in an innings.
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“Both Shami and Bumrah are wicket-taking bowlers while Umesh has more of a supporting role,” said MSK Prasad, who was the BCCI’s chief selector when India defeated Australia during their previous tour. “Maybe you can say how Ishant (Sharma) gave support earlier, keeping a tight line and putting pressure on the batsmen. Shami and Bumrah have the pace and accuracy. Umesh has got the experience (47 Tests) but he has not been as effective abroad as he has been in India. So, that leaves India with Bumrah as the main attacking bowler. It’s unfortunate that Ishant is also not in Australia as he is still in his rehab.”
Subroto Banerjee, Yadav’s fast bowling mentor, added that the way Shami controlled the ball was unmatchable. “He has developed this ability to swing both ways from the same position. And he has been very accurate in the last two years which makes him even more important in this bowling line-up,” Banerjee said.
The importance of swing and seam cannot be overstated; look, simply, at the carnage caused by Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc in the first Test. It was all about tightly controlled movement as India collapsed to their lowest ever Test innings score. Now India’s main mover of the ball is out of the equation.
Former players like Sunil Gavaskar are of the opinion that Sharma should also be flown in to bolster the pace attack in Shami’s absence.
The BCCI last month had “ruled out” Sharma out of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, adding that he had recovered from the side strain that he suffered in the IPL. The board said he is working on his workload to be Test-fit. Even if Sharma is flown in as soon as possible, he will have to undergo a 14-day isolation, which means he will only be available for the third Test, starting January 7. The second Test begins in Melbourne on December 26.
For now, either Saini, who has 128 wickets from 46 first-class games or Siraj (152 wickets from 38 games) look like the only options to join Bumrah and Yadav in the attack. Saini has impressed with his speed (he consistently clocks over 145kph) in the limited overs format and can extract bounce too.
Siraj, in India’s warm-up games, gave a fiery account of himself with swing and sharp bouncers.
“Saini was fast-tracked into the national side due to his T20 performance while Siraj has that wicket-taking ability. He had a couple of good Ranji Trophy seasons with Hyderabad (in 2016-17 season Siraj was Hyderabad’s top wicket-taker with 41 scalps) and has played well for India A too,” said Prasad, during whose tenure both the pacers made their international debut.
“Playing with two spinners can also be an option but it all depends on the MCG pitch that will be on offer.”