Mohammed Shami was not regular in the Indian T20I setup till a few years ago. Punjab Kings set the platform for the right-arm fast bowler’s ascension in the shortest format.
Shami crawled back to the national side after claiming 19 wickets for Punjab in the 2019 edition. He picked up 20 wickets in the next edition to prove his consistency.
And in the ongoing IPL 2021, Shami has eight scalps to his name thus far, but he bowled 76 dots — the most by any bowler in the first-half of the league.
In an exclusive chat with Sportstar, Shami opened up on the challenges of travel and performance during the pandemic, the evolution of K. L. Rahul and how the IPL may motivate World Cup-bound players to gain momentum.
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How challenging is it to maintain peak performance while travelling across continents amid strict regulations?
The biggest challenge is to go out in these times; travelling from one country to the other in bio-bubbles. If there is a long tour, you are away from your family for that period. The players can get mentally disturbed. And it can be irritating at times. You have to be in your room, and then, there is performance pressure to play for your country and franchise. But this is the best that we can do. You have to be mentally strong to do this.
Punjab Kings has been a good side in the IPL but it is yet to win a title. What do you feel about your team’s chances with the change of venue from India to UAE?
The players are always positive, and we think game-by-game, since it is a short format. And it is a long tournament. The momentum fluctuates in this format. There is a good chance. The boys are talented and we just need to click together. And that is our focus, to work and perform as a unit; only that can take you to the final. If you get momentum, you can see the bottom-placed teams come up. The best part is that the IPL and the T20 World Cup are happening at the same venue. Any player or team can get motivated and build momentum.
You had a long tour of England, and now there is the IPL which will be followed by the T20 World Cup. How difficult is it to maintain the workload? How is your body doing?
My body is doing good overall. I had an injury after I got hit in Australia, otherwise the momentum has been good. The only thing is to know how you can recover from niggles. If you need a massage or rest or treatment, you need to understand such things as there is cricket throughout the year. We only have to take care of our bodies. As far as my workload is concerned, more or less I am in the recovery mode. My team-mates make fun of my rest mode (laughs). When I am not on the ground, I don’t waste my energy. I know that I will give my 100 percent when I am switched on.
Bonding together: Punjab Kings’ Shami completes a catch even as captain and wicketkeeper K. L. Rahul tries to make it his own during an IPL game. “It is essential to know the strengths of team-mates and as captain (of Punjab Kings) Rahul has done very well. If you play in a franchise which comprises players who know you very well, the job becomes easier,” says Shami. – Sportzpics / IPL
K. L. Rahul started almost at the same time when you made your international debut. How do you see his evolution as a cricketer, and a captain?
He has performed and managed himself very well across formats. He has shown his true character in every stage, and he is in good touch now. You may have seen his batting in England. Since we have known each other for a long time, we are aware of each others’ skills. It is essential to know the strengths of team-mates and as captain he has done very well. If you play in a franchise which comprises players who know you very well, the job becomes easier.
Super Overs have become an essential part of T20 cricket. You have done well to defend five runs in one over in the IPL. Talk us through the mindset while bowling those six balls.
It is very difficult. You have less options and you are bowling to the best batters. The margin of error is less. You have to constantly back yourself. If you do that, there are more chances of execution. It is a short format and you have to practice variations at nets. As a senior bowler, I know that I may have to take responsibility. I have to be prepared to bowl a Super Over, so I try to test my skills at the nets.
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Punjab has many young bowlers such as Arshdeep Singh, Nathan Ellis and Ishan Porel. Do you see them bowling in full tilt in top-flight cricket in the future?
Whenever we invest in a player, we expect that player to be the best for us. I was also a youngster once. When you play with seniors, talk with them, you gain a lot of confidence. That is the point from where you have to take off. A youngster should talk to seniors with whom he is comfortable to fine-tune the skills. I always say you have to keep improving and keep learning. In the T20 format, you need a lot of hard work and skills. You don’t have time to think.
Learning curve: Shami has a light moment with young Mohd Siraj. “When you play with seniors, talk with them, you gain a lot of confidence. That is the point from where you have to take off. A youngster should talk to seniors with whom he is comfortable to fine-tune the skills. I always say you have to keep improving and keep learning,” says the senior speedster. – K. V. S. Giri
There are a lot of World Cup-bound players in the IPL. How much of World Cup discussions are you expecting in the Punjab dressing room?
I don’t think you should discuss the World Cup while playing the IPL. You need to focus on the remaining matches, and as a true sportsman, you should be committed to your franchise. You will have 10 or 12 days to prepare before the T20 World Cup. We are anyway going to play T20 cricket for the whole month, so there is not much to think about.
How are the wickets in the UAE? How differently will it play from India?
It is almost similar to India. During the start of the tournament, it is sporting and helpful. Once the tournament progresses with heat, the pitches get dry. At times, a change of venue and atmosphere can make a difference.
Your thoughts on fans returning to the stadiums?
It has always been great to play along with the fans. You feel pumped as a fast bowler if there is noise. They cheer for the players, which is great. I really hope things get better soon and we go back to normal times.