When BCCI chief selector, MSK Prasad, announced the 14-member Indian squad to play Windies in the first two ODIs, Rishabh Pant made all the headlines. One player that quietly slipped under the radar was Mohammed Shami who is making a comeback to the ODI fold after 13 months.
Shami, a bowling mainstay of India's test setup, had played his last ODI game against Australia in September 2017 at Bangalore. He went wicketless in that game, conceding 62 runs in his quota of 10 overs in the process.
Since being dropped from the ODI squad, Shami has featured in 10 test matches picking up 40 wickets and was the joint-highest wickettaker in the away tour to South Africa. In England, where the 2019 World Cup will be held, picked up 16 wickets in 5 test matches – a disappointing return for his efforts, especially in the final test at Oval where he beat the bat on more than 50 occasions without getting a nick.
Thus, Shami, who has been rested for the second test match against Windies at Hyderabad under the workload management program to give Shardul Thakur his debut, will feel vindicated to be back in the limited overs format.
One of the three fast bowlers selected in the squad along with K Khaleel Ahmed and Shardul Thakur, Shami is expected to make the playing eleven in the first ODI at Guwahati on 21st October. Shami's inclusion so close to the 2019 World Cup is a signal that India have not found a reliable seamer among the various newcomers they have tested out whenever the pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been rested.
The selection of Shami must not be mistaken for lack of options on the selectors' behalf as he is a proven commodity in ODI cricket. Despite being vulnerable to an expensive day with the ball, Shami has 91 wickets in 50 ODIs at an average of 25.37 – one that is only bettered by Bumrah. Shami's strike rate of 27.75 – which signifies he picks up a wicket almost every 5 overs and twice in every match – is the best among all the Indian fast bowlers.
Addressing Shami's inclusion in the squad during its announcement, MSK Prasad told the press, "We are just 18 ODIs from now before we play our first World Cup game, so we need to figure out our fast bowlers. In that process, we have picked Shami for this game."
Shami, 28, is an experienced campaigner and was also one of the star performers for India in the 2015 World Cup in Australia where he picked up 17 wickets and conceded an economical 4.82 runs per over. Thus, it is of little surprise that the team management is turning back to him in the last leg leading up to the World Cup.
It might also be interesting to note that in the ODI series of India's recent tour to England, the hosts figured out how to play the spin twins in the last two ODIs. This meant that the spinners were unable to pick wickets in middle overs – a trait that made them a permanent fixture of the team. While this is still an exception from their otherwise fantastic performances, India will definitely look to have an alternative plan in their reserves heading into the World Cup next year.
Hardik Pandya's injury and Ravindra Jadeja's subsequent form may also have had an indirect effect on India's think tank. India's spin twin of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have been very successful in ODIs of late but if Jadeja is to play in the allrounder's slot, India may be forced to rest one of the two – if not against Windies then definitely against Australia. This opens up space for a third seamer in the playing eleven and Shami might be a natural choice for that given his wicket-taking prowess.
The need for pacers to step up was well highlighted by MSK Prasad in the press conference when he said, "We are looking at that third and fourth seamer [for the 2019 World Cup]. That will be among those people whom we are going to pick from now onwards."
Thus, this Windies series provides Mohammed Shami with an opportune moment to get back to his prolific best and make a strong case to get on the flight to Australia and eventually England.