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ICC World Cup 2019 | Shami or Bhuvneshwar? A Happy Headache, but a Tricky Call

Karthik Lakshmanan |June 28, 2019, 7:39 AM IST
ICC World Cup 2019 | Shami or Bhuvneshwar? A Happy Headache, but a Tricky Call

Manchester: An embarrassment of riches.

That's how India's bowling coach Bharat Arun described the Mohammed Shami v Bhuvneshwar Kumar question a day before India's match against West Indies.

It was easy to see why. For the second consecutive game, India posted a middling total - below what they would have been comfortable with. For the second consecutive game, Shami allayed fears with another brilliant spell that set the tone for the defence.

Shami got Chris Gayle and Shai Hope in the five-over spell, conceding only 15 runs. He added two more wickets in the latter stages, ending with 4 for 16 from 6.2 overs. It was his second four-wicket haul in as many matches. But those are mere numbers. Those are mere consequences of the way he bowled.

It wouldn't be far fetched to say Shami did a bit of Shami and Bhuvneshwar with the ball. Shami is known to be a hit-the-deck bowler, and he did that well in the first spell. Running in fast, hitting back of length, getting the ball to skid on, bounce awkwardly. None of that is a surprise. What was special though was that he got the ball to talk - a role that Bhuvneshwar plays. His seam position was a work of art, there was no way the ball couldn't move in the air or off the pitch with such precise seam position.

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Watch the dismissal of Hope once again to see for yourself. Just the previous ball, Hope had brilliantly steered a full ball through point for a boundary. Shami had the revenge with an absolute beauty next ball - the ball hitting similar length, swinging in the air a bit and moving in further off the seam. Hope would have thought it wasn't too dissimilar to the previous ball and went for the drive, but the ball had taken a turn to hit the stumps.

Swing and seam with the new ball are Bhuvneshwar's territory. Earlier in the tournament, Arun had said Bhuvneshwar was their first-choice for the second pacer's slot for his ability to move the new ball. Here, Shami was doing just that.

To be fair, as Arun reminded while answering the question on the choice of pacers, Bhuvneshwar "too had done exceptionally well" before injuring his hamstring against Pakistan. Bhuvneshwar had 2/44 against South Africa and 3/50 against Australia, before a 0/8 in 2.4 overs against Pakistan.

If one has to nitpick, one can find that Bhuvneshwar had not struck with the new ball in any of those games. He wasn't far though, especially in the game against Pakistan when the ball did plenty. His first spells in the three games read 5-0-20-0 (against South Africa), 5-0-12-0 (against Australia) and 2.4-0-8-0 (against Pakistan). Shami's first spells read 4-1-6-1 (against Afghanistan) and 5-0-15-2 (against West Indies).

It must be added that these are the weaker sides, and the stiffer tests are yet to come. That first of those tougher tests will come against England on Sunday.

The choice for the bowling coach, with Bhuvneshwar beginning to bowl in the nets and seemingly back to full fitness, is a 'happy headache'.

But the headache is not a happy one from the perspective of the team balance. Bhuvneshwar's presence adds depth, or at least perception of depth to the batting. The perception is perhaps more important as it affects the way the middle order bats.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar

From the perspective of the batsmen, Bhuvneshwar at No. 8 seems much better than Shami at that position. One can argue that the No. 8 cannot do the job if the first seven can't but the tail seems that much longer with four tailenders. That was one of the problems India faced in England last year.

The long tails adds burden to the already under-pressure middle order, particularly MS Dhoni. He already adds plenty of value to his wicket, delaying acceleration in the fear of 'what if I get out now'. It's not without reason, but can also hamper progress as it did against Afghanistan. He ended with a half-century against West Indies, but for large parts, the innings was very similar to the earlier knock.

Dhoni scored only 18 runs off his first 38 balls, tied down by spin again as he scored just 9 off Fabian Allen's 17 balls. He should have been stumped to the left-arm spinner on 8 too, but the keeper made a complete mess. The difference between the two games was the way he finished - when he stays till the end, the start can be compensated for. But when he doesn't, it leaves the side in trouble.

For Dhoni to begin the acceleration earlier, he needs the cushion of either a solid start or a longer tail. But it's a tough decision for India; Shami is getting into the undroppable zone, and they cannot separate Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal to accommodate Ravindra Jadeja.

The balance might or might not cost them big in the World Cup - it's really only a matter of two good games in the knockouts. But it's still a tricky call to identify the best balance.

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Cricket World Cup Points Table

9 7 1 1 15 +0.80
9 7 2 0 14 +0.86
9 6 3 0 12 +1.15
9 5 3 1 11 +0.17
9 5 3 1 11 -0.43
9 3 4 2 8 -0.91
9 3 5 1 7 -0.03
9 3 5 1 7 -0.41
9 2 6 1 5 -0.22
9 0 9 0 0 -1.32

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
see more