Relentless Mohammed Shami's over from hell leaves England shaken and scarred

Mohammed Shami knows it was a close shave against Joe Root
July 03, 2022

The over from hell began about half an hour before the close, the ground bathed in sunlight a shade of extreme troll: all day absent only to turn up when there's barely an hour left. It was the 22nd over of an England innings that had begun nearly seven hours ago.

Three breaks for rain meant Mohammed Shami was bowling his 11th consecutive over without undue strain. Shami is not the most famous Lala in cricket. But with his thinning hair and permanent air of a character who has accidentally strolled out from a Netflix series on the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, he is a very endearing one.

The ten overs, split by rain into spells of one, two, four and three overs before this one had been both exemplary and an exemplar of Shami bowling. Only, somehow amplified. No water had crept onto the pitch but his balls were skimming off it as if off a body of water, and not clay and soil and grass.

Each delivery looked fuller and straighter and normally this would make them more hittable, but with Shami they aren't anymore where they once were. There was swing, there was seam, there were times when those descriptions felt interchangeable. By a manual count, Shami beat both edges, or hit both edges 14 times in those ten overs.

There was a ball from hell to poor Zak Crawley, the first after the first rain break. The caveat to Crawley's summer of torment is that he has been the victim of some ferociously good balls, mostly from Trent Boult. As this one bent away from the angle into him, for once missing the edge, Crawley may have considered he was due that luck. Rishabh Pant got lucky too, his face almost rearranged by the late wobble.

No wickets though because as much as Shami is known by the wickets he has taken - over 200 and counting, at a strike rate that is in the all-time top 10 - he is also known by the many wickets that he hasn't taken, or rather, that he's come within millimetres of taking. It is an odd reputation to acquire in this day and age when no claim is untested by data and over as long a career as of 60 Tests.

It is the kind of thing you might hear about some forgotten bowler from the 1960s who never really made it or didn't play long enough or who, if there had been greater accounting and less romanticism, it turned out wasn't that unlucky after all. Plenty of numbers bear this out in Shami though.

One of Shami's more endearing traits is how lightly he wears his ill-luck, how little it seemingly takes from his energy.

Jasprit Bumrah needs no luck to complement his genius but because life needs its own balance, Shami's misfortune was credited to him. Crawley fell in the over after this ball from hell: bowled Bumrah, spooked Shami. Shami looked slightly more threatening; Bumrah had the three-fer.

Ball one of the over from hell snaked in late, right through Joe Root's attempted drive. It wasn't the wrong ball to be driving at, it was the wrong bowler: this wasn't New Zealand anymore. Ball two was straighter, shorter and bounced more than Root expected, hitting the bat handle sharply. In any other over, this would be the best ball. In this over, it would eventually be forgotten.

Root lives off his late dabs and glides between third man and point. It is a release shot as well as a prolific one. Ball three was, in line and length, there to be late dabbed. It jagged back in so sharply Root was cut in half and beaten on the inside edge.

By ball four, Root had been worked into a frenzy. He shuffled out to the ball, not necessarily for the purpose of scoring runs but more to kill the lbw he feared was coming. He did get struck on the pad, India did review it - Bumrah's one mis-step as captain - but Root had calculated well. By coming out, the leg-before was gone.

Ball five and more inswing. In a summer of Tim Southee, Boult and James Anderson, Shami's inswing has already won; and he has been here only for one Test and has only bowled 13 overs before the third day. This one hit Root on the thigh pad, and invaluably, got him off strike.

Root is the world's best Test batter at the moment, but this was a weird, skittish innings. A hot take would be that it was too Bazball, trying to get bat on everything, attacking when caution made more sense. Three balls in a row from Shami - split by the last rain break - Root tried to drive balls that were very wide and full. Twice he hit air. Off the last, in no control, he edged over the cordon for four.

A more considered view might see that the bowling, and Shami in particular, was so relentless that it drew Root into constant indiscretion. He shuffled, he walked out, he tried to manufacture shots and none of it worked. There was no getting away from this, not least because the breaks kept Shami and Bumrah fresh.

Because he could or maybe because it was the plan, Shami beat Jonny Bairstow on the outside edge off the last ball of this over from hell. The recalibration of line, seam position and release was immediate and near-perfect. Over.

No blood was spilt, no bones broken, no wickets taken. Scars though, not least upon this bold new world of England's. What happens when the bowling is this good? Also, a microcosm of Shami's career, all the near-misses and dropped catches, the close leaves and the missed reviews. Cricket is a game of infinitesimal margins, and rarely can that have been better articulated than it was through this over.

Root fell the next over, bowled Mohammed Siraj, worked over Shami. Bairstow was millimetres from getting bowled in Shami's next over and Jack Leach was dropped. Shami soon got Leach, a wicket fully deserved but a victim completely unworthy.

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