When Mohammad Shami walked up to head coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma at the end of the WTC final against Australia, it is understood that he had one request: to rest him totally for the Tests and ODIs against the West Indies as he needs to be fresh for the gruelling season that lies ahead of them. And it is understood that the selection committee didn’t even think twice before giving Shami the rest he desired.
Amidst all the hue and cry over the team selection, the decision to rest Shami for the Caribbean tour has slipped under the radar. India, usually saddled with a very cramped schedule, are enjoying a rare one-month break after the conclusion of the World Test Championship final on June 11. Their next Test, against the West Indies, starts on July 12; most players have gone on a vacation, with some even requesting the Indian cricket board to delay the departure to the Caribbean by a few days as they have a busy three months from September to the end of the World Cup in November.
It is that time of the season with the World Cup around the corner that teams usually prefer bubble-wrapping their key players. It’s not a surprise then, that Shami was rested, particularly considering the amount of overs he has sent down this year across all formats that includes the Indian Premier League too.
That Shami himself volunteered to ask for rest is interesting. According to his coach Badruddin Siddique, Shami is very much from the old school of fast-bowling, who believe the more you bowl, the better you get.
But timely rest is something even the Australian great Glenn McGrath advocates for, especially for fast bowlers who play all three formats.
“Every 12 months, I think you need a bit of a break to get strong and fit again. So your body can withstand the stresses of fast bowling because it is not a natural thing. That’s up to the individual to actually take that rest when he feels he needs it. And it depends on the sort of longevity they want, what formats they want to play, how they want to go about it,” McGrath, who is the Director of Cricket at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, told The Indian Express on the importance of fast bowlers having a rest period from time to time.
McGrath, who played 124 Tests, 250 ODIs and T20Is in his glittering career that saw him win three World Cups, believes having an off-season is an absolute necessity in this era and age. While April-July used to be off-season for India prior to the launch of the IPL in 2008, the cramped international calendar means there is no such window even for players around the globe. Australia and England have been pioneers in managing the workload that they have allowed their fast bowlers to pick and choose formats, which allows them to take self-induced off-seasons, a period they spend for recovery and building up the strength.
Shami on the other hand, after being included as a last-minute inclusion for the T20 World Cup last November, missed the tour of New Zealand and Bangladesh that followed soon after, and during the home season, was rested for an ODI against New Zealand and third Test against Australia in Indore.
“You’re never going to make a fast bowler who will never get injured. Because it’s just the nature of the beast. You can bowl as much as you want, but if you don’t bowl, put strength back in or if you don’t have an offseason or a period where you can build your strength up, your fitness, you can get injured no matter what. I don’t care who you are because your strength just depletes slowly and slowly. You have to maintain it through this season. But if you don’t, if you just play 12 months a year without having a rest or having an offseason sooner or later, you are gonna get injured,” McGrath added.
That Shami has volunteered to have a rest period also shows how far he has evolved as a fast bowler, one who has a better understanding of his body than ever before.
Early last year during an interaction with this newspaper, he had spoken about his general reluctance in taking breaks, though he stressed the need for breaks for recovery when needed.
“Who has the courage, which bowler or batsman has the himmat to say that he wants to sit out? No one even wishes to sit out. Of course, there is something called workload management. I would agree with it to an extent but at times I think there are some minus points in it as well. I feel that at times when you are in good form and in great rhythm, you shouldn’t stop playing. Of course, at times I feel, for the sake of recovery, I need to take a break. You have to do it smartly,” Shami said. Clearly, after a hectic season, he has felt the need for that ‘smart’ break.
For a pacer who took up the sport very late, including playing red-ball cricket, one of the fears when Shami burst into the scene was he hasn’t built much fitness like some of the modern day pacers. But as his coach previously told this newspaper, Shami prefers building his strength the old school way, by immersing his feet in sandpits at his farm and running. Instead of hitting the gym to build strength, he prefers doing unorthodox methods as it strengthens his legs.
It is what Shami wants to do in the coming days before he heads to the National Cricket Academy. With the World Cup just 100 days away, India’s hopes of lifting a second title at home, depends on their pace attack, in which Shami will be a key component alongside Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah. It is the reason why despite having a month break between the WTC final and the first Test in Domnica, India have handed the rest that Shami has sought.