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How Shami's Spells Changed India's Script In The World Cup

07/03/2015 8:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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India's Mohammed Shami, right, celebrates with his teammate M S Dhoni after dismissing West Indies batsman Dwayne Smith during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Perth, Australia, Friday, March 6, 2015. (AP Photo Theron Kirkman)

Mahendra Singh Dhoni got all the attention and accolades for India's win over West Indies, but the adjudicators read the game splendidly in naming Mohammed Shami as Man of the Match.

This does not in any way belittle the Indian captain's innings which saw India home in a tricky run chase. Not for the first time, Dhoni showed nerves of steel under pressure to hold a tottering innings together.

His unflappable temperament is now the stuff of fable, but is fascinating to see him do it every time. Not technique or power, nor the ability to improvise make Dhoni among the greatest ODI batsmen of all time; rather it is his enormous self-belief.

"Run-making was not easy, as was evident when the West Indies batted, but the Indian top order looked like they had a Holi party waiting for them and wanted to finish the match in double quick time."

From India's point of view, Dhoni's runs were crucial in not only winning this match, but also for matches ahead. He had not had a half decent knock to his credit starting from the tri-series preceding the World Cup and there were questions being asked whether he had lost his mojo.

The answer came not through flashy strokes, but the deep resolve he showed against the West Indies. He came in to bat with his side in a precarious position at 78-4, soon took charge of the proceedings and then paced the win to a nicety.

Indian batsman M S Dhoni plays a shot during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match against the West Indies in Perth, Australia, Friday, March 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Theron Kirkman)

The self control Dhoni showed in eschewing flashy strokes and power hitting was also a lesson to the top order batsmen, all of whom fell to their own impetuosity. Aggression is important, but it can't lapse into foolhardiness.

The Perth pitch had enough juice in it for fast bowlers. Bowlers got pace and bounce and those who pitched it up, also pronounced swing. Run-making was not easy, as was evident when the West Indies batted, but the Indian top order looked like they had a Holi party waiting for them and wanted to finish the match in double quick time.

The history of ODI cricket throws up several examples why modest scores that look easy to chase down can be deceptively dangerous. Batsmen can become a trifle casual, then when suddenly a few early wickets are lost, it becomes a crisis.

The classic case, of course, is India's memorable triumph in the 1983 World Cup final when they defended a paltry 183 successfully. The West Indies then were world champions but fell short by 43 runs as the top order became rash and reckless.

There were some apprehensions that India had fallen into a similar trap in this match. The fact that the target of 183 was eerily similar to what Kapil Dev's team had defended in 1983 only added to the fears.

In the end, Dhoni's mature and measured batting saw India through. The scorebook reveals that India won by 4 wickets with 10.5 overs remaining, which blights how hard-fought the game was, and therefore how invaluable Dhoni's contribution.

India's Mohammed Shami, right, celebrates with his teammate M S Dhoni after dismissing West Indies batsman Dwayne Smith during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Perth, Australia, Friday, March 6, 2015.

Why do I then believe Shami was deservedly the Man of The Match? Because had Shami - with splendid support from Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma - not bowled as superbly as he did, it is likely the West Indies could have scored about 250, which could have transformed the match entirely given how the pitch played.

Shami was brilliant in both his spells, but particularly the opening one when he dismissed Smith and Gayle, the hard-hitting openers. The pace he worked up, but more importantly the line and length he bowled, had the batsmen struggling to cope.

The threat from Gayle fizzled out early as Shami made him look like a novice, angling the ball across his body, beating him repeatedly outside the off-stump, finally driving him into throwing his wicket away. This was the psychological ascendancy that India were seeking, and Shami got it very early.

Shami's form - as indeed that of Yadav and Mohit - has been the bigger factor in India's fine run in the World Cup than the much vaunted batting. In the Test series, he looked jaded and lost his place. Indeed several critics had argued that other fast bowlers should be given precedence over Shami when the World Cup began.

But Dhoni's faith in him has paid off. Not just that, now many experts say that Shami has been the best fast bowler in the tournament yet, though he doesn't have the highest number of wickets, nor has he a spell to match those of Southee, Boult or Starc.

Of India's four matches, Shami has played in three - against the toughest sides in their pool - and has troubled the best batsmen in each of them. His form seems to have inspired the other fast bowlers too, and India's bowling - considered the weakness that could hamper the team's defence of the title - is now it's touted strength.

That makes for one of the remarkable stories of the World Cup yet. But Indian fans will be hoping that the final chapter is yet to be written.

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