The end of hell started about half an hour before the end, the ground bathed in sunlight, a shadow of extreme trolls: absent all day to show up when barely an hour was left. It was the 22nd left of an England innings that had started almost seven hours ago.
The ten overs, split by rain into periods of one, two, four and three overs, were both exemplary and exemplary of Shami bowling. Alone, somehow enhanced. No water had crept onto the field, but his balls slid off it as from a body of water, and not from clay and earth and grass.
Each delivery looked fuller and straighter and normally this would make them more targetable, but with Shami they aren’t where they used to be. There was a swing, there was a seam, there were times when those descriptions were interchangeable. By a manual count, Shami defeated both edges, or hit both edges 14 times in those ten overs.
There was a ball from hell for poor Zak Crawley, the first after the first rain break. The caveat to Crawley’s summer of torment is that he’s been the victim of some savagely good balls, mostly from Trent Boult. As this one leaned toward him from the corner, for once when he missed the edge, Crawley may have thought he deserved that luck. Rishabh Pant was lucky too, his face almost rearranged from the late wobbling.
No wickets, because as far as Shami is known for the wickets he took – over 200 and it’s still counting, with a stroke rate that is in the top 10 of all time – he is also known for the many wickets he doesn’t have taken, or rather, that he came within a few millimeters of taking. It’s an odd reputation to acquire in this day and age where no claim has been untested by data and over a 60-test career.
It’s the sort of thing you might hear about a forgotten sixties bowler who never really made it or didn’t play long enough or who, if there had been more accounting and less romance, wouldn’t have been so unlucky in retrospect. all. However, many figures confirm this in Shami.
One of Shami’s more endearing qualities is how lightly he carries his misfortune, how little it seems to cost of his energy.
Ball sneak in one of the over from hell late, right through Joe Root’s attempted drive. It wasn’t the wrong ball to drive, 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 slips between third man and point. It’s both a release shot and a productive one. Ball three was, in line and length, to be dabbed late. It came in so sharp that Carrot was cut in half and smashed on the inside edge.
By ball four, Root was thrown into a frenzy. He shuffled for the ball, not necessarily to score points, but more to kill the lbw he feared was coming. He was knocked on the block, India judged it – Bumrah’s only misstep as captain – but Root had calculated it right. By coming out, the leg-fur was gone.
Ball five and more inswing. In a summer of Tim Southee, Boult and James Anderson, Shami’s slant has already won; and he has only been here for one Test and has only thrown 13 overs before the third day. This hit Root on the thigh and got him invaluable.
Root is currently the world’s best test batter, but this one was a weird, skittish turn. A hot take would be that it was too Bazball, trying to do the trick everywhere, attacking when caution made more sense. Three balls in a row from Shami – split by the last rain – Root tried to drive balls that were very wide and full. He hit air twice. Of the latter, without control, he slid four times over the cordon.
A more thoughtful look might see that the bowling, and Shami in particular, was so brutal that it left Root in constant indiscretion. He shuffled, he walked out, he tried to get shots and nothing worked. There was no getting around it, not least because the breaks kept Shami and Bumrah fresh.
Because he could or maybe because it was the plan, Shami defeated Jonny Bairstow on the perimeter of the last ball of this over from hell. The recalibration of line, seam position and release was immediate and near perfect. About.
No blood was spilled, no bones broken, no wickets taken. But scars, not least on this bold new world of England. What happens when the bowling is so good? Also a microcosm of Shami’s career, all the near misses and missed catches, the dense leaves and the missed reviews. Cricket is a game of infinitesimal margins, and rarely can that be articulated better than it was by this past.
Root attacked the next, threw Mohammed Siraj, worked over Shami. Bairstow was millimeters away from getting Shami’s next over and Jack Leach was dropped. Shami soon got Leach, a wicket fully deserved but a completely unworthy victim.
Osman Samiuddin is Senior Editor at ESPNcricinfo
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