Hint of swing, precision of seam, proper set-up. We decoded Shamibhai's fiery opening spell

What was Mohammad Shami like as a student? We don’t know for sure, but he probably wouldn’t have cared much for history. Because he likes to rewrite it. History said that before today, Shami had taken only 18 wickets bowling in the powerplay in IPL matches. At an average of 59.94, in 139 overs. If Shami had a look at history, it was probably a look of disdain. If he was given to old-world expressions, he might have said ‘a fig for history’, but it would have been more accurate to substitute peach for fig. Three peaches. All in the powerplay.

At the end of the powerplay against Lucknow Super Giants, Shami had 3-0-10-3. The batters dismissed? KL Rahul, Quinton de Kock, Manish Pandey. Shami had ripped the heart out of Super Giants’ top order. He was bowling with a white Kookaburra, but you only knew that because you could see it. If the ball was blanked out and only it’s trajectory, speed and end result shown, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Shami had the red Dukes ball in his hand.

First match in IPL history for the franchise. First ball of the first match. First wicket, of the opposing captain. That’s how Shami started Gujarat Titans off on their IPL journey. As first balls go, this belonged in the IPL Hall of Fame. The seam was upright as if it had been held by a string from the skies, the ball swerved in as if the middle of the pitch had a magnet in it, and then broke away as sharply as an F1 driver taking a turn, finding the margin between ‘doing too much’ and not doing enough to threaten the edge. This was no ordinary edge, it was of IPL’s 600-run banker Rahul, a Rahul who had kept his bat very close to pad – giving the bowler an almost invisible margin to find the edge, and Shami did it anyway. To defeat a batter in prime form who was not looking to be aggressive takes skill that is bottled by the gods.

“I warmed up well. You need to bowl a Test match length when you have these conditions: fresh wicket, little bit in the air,” Shami would tell Star Sports later. “I worked hard for a long time, and it’s only after that, that the seam comes out like that (straight).”

No less spectacular was the wicket of Quinton de Kock. With Rahul, there was no set-up, just Shami coming off a long run and bowling the perfect ball as if he was in the middle of a searing spell. With de Kock, Shami took it away for the first couple of balls, and then brought that magical wrist into play by getting the third ball to swing in sharply. Perfect ball for a perfect set-up.

For good measure, Shami showed with the Pandey wicket that he could bring the ball into the right-hander too. All it needed was another bolt upright seam, the perfect in-between length where the batter gets indecisive in coming forward or going back, and the perfect channel that makes the best unsure of off-stump. That’s an over-use of ‘perfects’ in one sentence, but that’s the adjective Shami demanded.

This Wankhede track was such that if you could get out of the powerplay, you could find hittable phases. Shami stopped Super Giants in the powerplay. It needed a chase filled with heart for Titans to ensure their IPL debut was a winning one, but without those Shami peaches up top, it would have been a lot more difficult.

David Miller, who had a role in making that chase successful, described Shami’s effort as “match-winning”, and lauded his rare gift. “He was just hitting the area that bowlers want to hit every ball. He has a knack and a gift. To lead the team from the start the way he did was incredible. Obviously with a new team, first game, you want to start well, and that’s what he did.”

- Saurabh Somani