It was a 'reversal' of fortunes when Ishant Sharma handed fellow-pacer Mohammed Shami his Test cap at Eden Gardens on Wednesday morning. Shami was replacing a 'senior' quickie whose form took a massive beating during the recent India versus Australia ODI series that Mahendra Singh Dhoni's boys won 3-2. Shami was at the fountainhead of India's decisive win in the final ODI at Bangalore. The strapping right-arm seamer took three for 52 in a high-scoring game that India won by 57 runs. In a contest that will be remembered for Rohit Sharma's double century, Shami probably sniffed an opportunity to replace the 'expensive' Ishant at Eden Gardens. His dream came true as his 4 for 71 restricted West Indies to 234 all out.
On Tuesday when the Indian team trained at Eden, Ishant bowled his heart out. He definitely fancied his chance to play in Sachin Tendulkar's 199th and penultimate Test. Skipper Dhoni has always backed the lanky Delhi pacer during troubled times. The new ODI rules have been cruel to bowlers. What with the fielding restrictions and the limited protection available, bowlers have been like lambs for the slaughter. Dhoni has compared his seamers to "bowling machines" where batsmen chose the length of the ball so that they can hone their skills to smash them at will.
In spite of the adverse conditions, Shami proved a point at Bangalore. On a belter, Shami got the better of frontline Aussie batsmen Aaron Finch and Adam Voges. Finch was LBW and Voges was bowled, an indication that the pacer, touching 24, had the ability to deceive batsmen with pace and movement. Wednesday proved to be D-Day for Shami. The Indian team management rewarded him with his Test debut and Ishant was called upon to hand over the coveted cap. While it's a great leveler, cricket can really be cruel. Ishant must have felt the pain to be ousted by a competitor, who deserved to play.
Shami proved his worth in gold on Wednesday. On a dual-paced Eden wicket, Shami followed Dhoni's order to the T - bowled straight and the right lengths. Shami's mid-off line always probed the West Indian batsmen and the fact that the ball kept low and came slow off the pitch sent the normally free-flowing Caribbeans into a shell. West Indies were 107 for 2 at lunch. Shami removed the left-handed Kieran Powell for 28. The batsman had looked dangerous with a 40-ball 28 studded with five fours and a six. It was a short ball from Shami that did the trick. The pacer is known to hit the deck and this one caught Powell by surprise. He pulled at a ball outside the off-stump and miscued it. Bhuvneshwar Kumar took a nice running catch at mid-off.
Dhoni introduced spin early in the West Indies innings. It was expected. The combination of spin and pace meant the ball would have shine and rough on either side. Perfect composition for reverse swing. Shami exploited this wonderfully. Seam up and bowling almost at half-volley length, Shami made the ball 'talk' as West Indies' top order crashed. Marlon Samuels, whose maiden Test century came at the Eden Gardens, was bowled by a Shami ball that skidded in and found the gap as Samuels shaped for a drive through covers. Samuels was out for 65 in the 44th over.
Shami had a hand in Darren Bravo's silly run out and then knocked out Denesh Ramdin as the visitors lost three wickets in a space of five runs. Ramdin was bowled for 4, another Shami beauty that reversed and foxed the batsman who shaped for a cut. So early in the innings and when application was need of the hour, it was poor shot selection by the West Indian keeper for sure but Shami's probing length, line and movement was indeed impressive. Dhoni used Shami in short spells. Older the ball, more effective Shami was. West Indies were 192 for seven at tea and even though 'mixed' spinner Tendulkar caught Shane Shillingford LBW for his 46th Test wicket, Shami was the wrecker-in-chief with 3 for 69.
Arriving in Test cricket is the ultimate dream of any cricketer. At a time when India is pondering over its limited fast bowling arsenal, Shami comes in as a whiff of fresh air. He runs in hard, bends his back and thinks straight and simple. Cricket is a game for the uncomplicated. His 17 wickets in 14 one-day internationals are testimony to the fact that Shami has the ability to pitch in the right areas. The wickets against West Indies will give him a lot of confidence as India need someone to use the new and the old ball effectively. As far as Ishant is concerned, winning his confidence will be key. Dhoni will always back a winner. Shami will be his go-to man now.