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Mohammed Shami hopeful of Test return

Shami feels the Indian quicks have been accurate in the series and he is ready to bowl with same intensity

Mohammed Shami has been out of action for four months. The last he played a game in whites was in November 2016 against England in Mohali. Since then, his knee began acting up and he was ruled out for the remainder of the two games of the series in Mumbai and Chennai. Shami went back to the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru and began his rehabilitation process to regain full fitness.

The last time he was at the NCA during the ongoing Test series against Australia, he was seen bowling full tilt with minimal discomfort. He has been traveling with the current Indian contingent and is being closely monitored by the team management. Shami had a long stint at the nets on the eve of the final Test in Dharamsala and said he was feeling confident about his bowling.

“I am a lot more comfortable than before. I am feeling good, especially over the last 15 days since I have played those two games of the Vijay Hazare Trophy,” Shami told BCCI.TV. “It has been a long time since I have played a match, so those two games have helped me in my confidence mentally and physically. When I played the first match in Chennai, there was some discomfort but when I played the last match in Delhi, I was hundred per cent sure that I was giving it my all without the body acting up. I picked up four wickets in the final and I took a lot of bowling confidence from it.”

Shami bowled for more than an hour at the nets in Dharamsala with short breaks in between. He looked in no discomfort whatsoever and there were no compromises in pace as well. “In my drills, I am increasing my stamina slowly and the progress has been good. The work is going on well. I am completely ready to play the short formats and I don’t think I have an issue with that. I did have my doubts about my participation in the final Test here in Dharamsala but after going though my drills and bowling at the nets, I am feeling comfortable.”

The fast bowler believed the management had played a huge role in making him feel comfortable and keep him in good stead to use his services when need be. “The activities, the routines and drills are quite different when you are traveling with the team. You feel very comfortable when you are around your teammates and have the support of the team management. They give a lot of confidence and a player going through a comeback from injury benefits a lot.

“I never expected myself to be out of action for such a long time,” he continued. “I miss being a part of this side and when you are not traveling with the team, you miss it even more. I watch the matches and think how it would have been had I been in that situation and what my bowling partners are doing on the field.”

For Shami, the wait to get into the squad has been frustrating and testing, especially at a time when he was in a good bowling form. “It is a frustrating process to be out of action when you are bowling at your peak. Physically you are down, but you got to be very strong mentally. You need to have complete dedication towards your rehabilitation. Even now, I always tell myself that I am hundred per cent fit and have the same intensity like the last time I walked on the field. That boosts my confidence. During such times, the family support matters a lot. When you speak to your loved ones and they give you confidence, you feel good and it helps you mentally.”

Shami has been keeping a close watch on the ongoing Test series and has been giving his two cents to his fellow pacers. He believed the Indian pacers have done a great job in the series so far. “I think our pacers have done really well in this series. Our fast bowlers have been bowling with a lot of pace in the right areas. Our fast bowlers are quicker and more accurate than theirs (Australia).

“We often discuss bowling plans and share our own take on certain match situations. The bond between the pacers in the side is great and it helps for the team’s cause. I believe we are moving well as a unit. Hopefully we can put up a good all-round bowling performance and can win the series 2-1.”

Shami has good memories of playing in scenic Dharamsala. Will he make a return in the final Test? Time will only tell. “I have played a lot of matches here in Dharamsala and I have fond memories of the same. I hope and wish that I walk on to the ground for the fourth Test and help the team win the Test.” 

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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The story behind the Saha-Pujara grind

Cheteshwar Pujara on what went into the making of a Ranchi epic

Cheteshwar Pujara batted 672 minutes and for 525 balls, the longest by an Indian batsman in a Test. For two whole days Ranchi witnessed a grind, the kind of grind that took you back in time wherein batsmen would toil bowlers down, thrive on weakness, go through mental shifts and in the end, stand tall.

Pujara rolled back memories of that grind and notched up his third double ton, second against Australia but the one he rates the most. “This is probably one of my best double hundreds,” Pujara said. “It was a tough inning. I wasn’t having a good time in the initial part of the innings and it was difficult to get runs. Once I got set, things became easier. As the innings progressed it became easy. I had to play a patient innings. There was a time when I had to completely close out certain shots. In terms of difficulty levels, this double ton means a lot to me.”

202 in Ranchi, yes, but Pujara believed the 92 in the second Test in Bengaluru had a great role behind this epic double century. “The 92 I scored in the Bengaluru Test was very crucial because that innings made me realize that I had to work on a few things. It helped me prepare even better for this Test match. I had my game plans set for this Test and things worked for me. The victory at Bengaluru meant a lot to us and instilled in us the confidence that we had a chance of winning the series. That innings and victory kept me in good stead for Ranchi.”

It was Pujara of the traditional mould, which came with its own set of challenges right from the moment he walked in to bat. Bouncers were dealt with precision, spin was approached with good feet and the bad balls had the Puajra flourish written all over it. It was a challenge that Pujara was no stranger to. “Day 3 was tough. I had to restrict myself and couldn’t play all my shots because we lost a lot of wickets. Concentration levels had to be high and it was important to have self-confidence. I think it is during times like these that experience matters a lot. I have played a lot of domestic cricket and scored big runs under similar situations. This Test, it was no different.”

Giving him good company for 199 runs and 317 minutes was Wriddhiman Saha who himself brought up his 3rd Test ton. Pujara gave a sneak peek into the mammoth run-stand. “Once Saha came in we had a good chat about the way forward. He was really crucial. The focus was mainly on strike rotating and targeting certain bowlers. He got his confidence today and played his shots fluently. There was one stage when I told him that he could carry on with his natural game, which he did. He is someone who gets big runs if he stays on the wicket.

“He has been batting well and there have been times when he has rescued the team from difficult situations. I hope he continues the way he has been batting. I would like to congratulate him and thank him for supporting me throughout our partnership.”

What makes the partnership even more noteworthy is the fact that it came under challenging conditions physically. Anand Date, strength and conditioning coach of the team made some interesting points here.

“It was energy sapping for both the players. It is not just because they batted for an entire day but also because both players were on the field in difficult fielding positions. One, a wicket-keeper and the other one was always in close-in catching positions.

“One might think that this doesn’t require them to run a lot, but they get into a hip flex position (sitting position) a lot for long periods of time. That coupled with the hardness of this ground makes it tricky for them for long periods of time.”

What kept them going through the marathon stand? Energy drinks, proper health monitoring during breaks and right amount of nutrition. “An important thing that we had to consider was their recovery,” Date said. “We had to make sure that they got good sleep and nutrition – two important aspects of recovery after a day’s play. The tick marks on the ice baths and pool sessions were also vital. Ensuring lower body mobility was also on top of our list. Energy drinks, ingesting carbohydrates and proteins at the right amount and right time was necessary immediately after the end of day’s play when the duo was on the field. Fortunately, the weather helped us a bit today and we could maintain hydration levels, which was important.”

Date continued, “We have special energy hydration drinks. It consists of the right amount of minerals that include calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium. These four minerals play an important role in the functioning of the muscles. If any of these minerals go down because of sweat, you are bound to get cramps.

“We made sure that Saha and Pujara got the right amount of minerals during lunch and tea breaks. Food had to be light, which allowed them to continue with their innings. They had a light lunch with some dal, rice and curd. The kind of food that can digest easily and doesn’t keep them heavy on their tummy and at the same time gave them an opportunity to continue their intense energy levels. They fared brilliantly,” Date concluded.

When Pujara and Saha were collecting runs over after over and session after session, comparisons were made to the epic Dravid-Laxman run fest at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2001. For Pujara though, that will remain the best partnership ever. “I think our partnership did bring back memories of the epic partnership between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid back in 2001. But, I can never forget that partnership and I feel it is the best till date. I don’t think we were close to it but I am glad if this is being compared to that epic partnership. One thing that this partnership has done to both of us is that our confidence levels have gone up a notch higher. We believe if you can apply yourself, you can achieve big targets.” 

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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