Lionheart Shami Ahmed rises to the challenge
In five Ranji games, Shami took 28 wickets at a stunning average of 21.35. He'd probably have scalped a few more had it not been for the small matter of a call-up to the Indian One-Day International squad to face Pakistan.
"This boy, with this attitude, is going to go places," says WV Raman, coach of the Bengal Ranji team, of Shami Ahmed, the 22 year-old who set the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy alight with a series of sparkling performances.
In five games, Shami took 28 wickets at a stunning average of 21.35. He'd probably have scalped a few more had it not been for the small matter of a call-up to the Indian One-Day International squad to face Pakistan.
It doesn't need to be said that Shami's had a good year - a year where he got people to take note of him. He began 2012 with a decisive performance in the Duleep Trophy final, helping East Zone beat Central Zone in February, with a match haul of eight wickets.
Coaching and guidance from Wasim Akram during the Indian Premier League stint with Kolkata Knight Riders further honed his raw skills, the effects of which were obvious during the subsequent Ranji season. And along with his obvious skill with the ball, what has made Shami stand out was his mental strength, never showcased better than when he made his Bengal debut when down with dengue. "He made his debut under difficult circumstances," recalled Raman. "But he displayed tremendous attitude, because he was not on the field until lunch, which means he couldn't have bowled until tea. And then in the last session he bowled and picked three wickets, by which time the ball was really old."
But that was only to be expected of someone who chose to venture into the unknown, shifting base from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh to Kolkata. "He's a boy who is not put off when not getting responsive wickets," said Raman. "That's a quality which is very rare. Generally, youngsters and fast bowlers get disheartened with unresponsive tracks, but that isn't the case with Shami. That made him unique in a way as well."
Interestingly, there are two pacemen from Bengal in the national squad at the moment - Shami and Ashok Dinda. The similarities, however, ended there. Unlike Dinda, who was a hit-the-deck bowler, Shami's strength was in his ability to swing the ball and extract good bounce. "He (Shami) can generate a lot of pace, and he is always willing to bowl," said Raman. "He's bowled a lot this season, which wasn't something we'd have relished, but as a young bowler, I told him he has to bowl a lot. The more you bowl, the better you get."
A bit of tweaking here and there and Raman thinks Shami can be a mainstay in the Indian squad as early as in mid-2013. "I think he'd have to improve a bit more on his consistency," said Raman. "Get a bit better in alignment, which will help him make the ball swing and seam."
Of course, this isn't the first time a young paceman has burst on to the scene with a lot of promise. In the recent past, the trend has been of these youngsters going down with injuries when the workload piled up. Shami himself sustained a side strain while playing for India A in New Zealand in September 2012.
"These things happen when youngsters get carried away and tend to give a little extra," said Raman. "They do something which is likely to get them injured technically. So when he started bowling here, or when he did the rehab, I was trying to ensure that his alignment was much better, much straighter, which meant his chances of getting injured was minimised. And I'm glad once he did the rehab for the side strain, which prevented him from playing the Champions League, he came back here and rested. And once he started getting back on the field - touchwood - by what he's done in the last few games, he has attracted a lot of attention."
For Shami, the journey has just begun. He will soon face challenges, both on and off the field, and that's where his focus and strength will be tested. "He should realise the fact that getting to the top means he has to work harder on his cricket, get much fitter," said Raman. "He has to realise that what has brought him here is his attitude and his enthusiasm to bowl whenever he was asked to bowl. I think he should retain both those attributes. Then I think he'll end up doing excellent service for at least five years in International cricket. The thing is, in today's world, there are a lot of other things that come into play. So you never know."
The promise is clearly there. If Shami can keep his head about him, and follow the path charted for him by Raman, he could end up serving Indian cricket for a long time.