On match eve, Shami had looked the least likely of the three other Indian pacemen to share the new ball with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, especially with Dhoni suggesting that he needed to work on his fitness. Maybe he does need work in that respect, but Shami showed that he is definitely not short on skills, turning in a brilliant exhibition of seam and reverse swing bowling to knock the stuffing out of West Indies.
On a slightly two-paced surface at the Eden Gardens that threw up variable bounce, Shami displayed the heart and instinct of a wicket-taker, finishing with deserved figures of 4 for 71 to negate any advantage West Indies might have fancied when Darren Sammy called right in the morning. Among his victims were Kieran Powell, surprised by bounce, Marlon Samuels, bamboozled by a tremendous nip-backer, and Denesh Ramdin, beaten for pace and stunned by prodigious reverse swing – all more than capable batsmen with a combined 11 Test hundreds between them.
Having bowled West Indies out for 234 in a little over five hours, India rounded off an excellent day in office through Shikhar Dhawan and M Vijay, who steered the team to 37 without being separated by close. They were briefly tested by Sheldon Cottrell, the debutant left-arm paceman who was quick and made liberal use of the short stuff, but came through the test unscathed to hold out the promise of another productive day on the morrow.
It has been a fairly productive 11 months for Shami, who made his One-Day International debut against Pakistan this January, and whose Test debut on Wednesday highlighted the progress he had made since. Shami was India’s most impressive quick in the ODI run-fest against Australia, and with the think-tank opting to go with form, he repaid the faith in spectacular fashion.
Shami, originally from Uttar Pradesh but who plays for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy, made the most of his familiarity with the Eden conditions as he battered West Indies into submission, hustling all batsmen including Samuels, who made a classy half-century, and Chanderpaul, whose steadfastness was once again on view in his 149th Test.
While Shami understandably took away all the accolades, it wasn’t a one-man show by any stretch of the imagination. Bhuvneshwar Kumar exhibited the virtues of swing bowling, R Ashwin was composed even when Powell came after him in his first over, and Pragyan Ojha was tidy, giving nothing away, while Tendulkar too got into the act, trapping Shane Shillingford in front for his 201st international victim.
West Indies never really threatened to make a fist of it once the burgeoning third-wicket stand of 91 between Samuels, unafraid to play his strokes, and Darren Bravo, otherwise strangely becalmed between very rare moments of unbridled aggression, had been terminated by Shami. The two had been united inside the first hour once Chris Gayle had been caught at second slip off a Bhuvneshwar delivery that angled away, and Powell was snaffled at mid-off mistiming a pull against a Shami bouncer from outside off.
Samuels looked the part all the way through, driving crisply through the covers against the pacemen and using his feet brilliantly to Ashwin and Ojha. Generally content to sit on the back foot and play late, he was in perfect command whenever he was offered fullness in length and a bit of width though like Bravo, he too was culpable of not looking for singles often enough.
Put down on 60 by Dhoni as he edged a cut off Ojha – one of two inexpensive and unusual lapses by the Indian captain – Samuels failed to cash in, though that was more due to Shami’s excellence than any tardiness on the batsman’s part. Bravo, though, was nothing if not tardy; having not looked for a single almost throughout his two-hour stint, he strayed down the track after playing the ball to short square leg, and was rightly sent back by Chanderpaul. Shami swooped down on the ball and fired it in to Dhoni, the returning Bravo well stranded and inexplicably holding his partner responsible for the dismissal.
Ramdin came and went in a trice as West Indies lost 3 for 5 in ten deliveries, and whatever little initiative Bravo and Samuels had snatched. A batsman short after Sammy chose to play the additional spinner, they needed their captain to show some discipline but Sammy tonked Ojha down long-off’s throat to make an inglorious exit, leaving Chanderpaul to fight another lone battle.
Not for the first time, Chanderpaul was more than equal to the task, though he could have made more of an effort to farm the strike in the company of Shillingford, at No. 8, and Permaul, the No. 9. Happy to take singles early in the over and expose the tail to the Indian bowlers, Chanderpaul watched on in dismay as the Indian bowlers continued to make inroads. Dhoni brought on Tendulkar to rapturous approbation from a 40,000-strong crowd and the little man obliged with his fourth delivery, trapping Shillingford in front with a quicker, straighter one.
Finally, with partners deserting him rapidly, Chanderpaul played down the wrong line to Ashwin and lost off stump, and Shami fittingly drove home the final nail by evicting Cottrell. As debuts go, this was pretty special. Shami can reflect on a job well done, the team management can pat itself on the back for a smart decision based on form, not sentiment.