Shastri: ‘Mohammed Shami sitting at home and cooling his heels baffles me’
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Former coach thinks India should have taken another seamer to the Asia Cup, to cover for situations like Avesh Khan’s illness

Mohammed Shami's last T20I for India was against Namibia at the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE, India v Namibia, T20 World Cup 2021, Dubai

Ravi Shastri thinks India are a seamer short at the Asia Cup, and Mohammed Shami would have filled the void nicely  •  Getty Images

Where is Mohammed Shami and “why is he cooling his heels at home” instead of being at the Asia Cup?

These are questions former head coach Ravi Shastri has asked of the Indian team management after their second straight loss in the Super 4s. On Tuesday, India failed to defend 173 in a final-over loss to Sri Lanka. Two days prior to that, they could not defend 181 against Pakistan.

Shastri’s questions stem particularly from India having gone into the tournament with just three specialist fast bowlers. Heading into the Super 4s, an illness to Avesh Khan meant India had to field just two specialist seamers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh, with allrounder Hardik Pandya as the third seam option.

India could have called Deepak Chahar into the squad, as the fast bowler had been training with the team in Dubai, but chose instead to wait on Avesh’s fitness. Their two subsequent losses all but knocked them out of contention for the final, leaving them heavily dependent on other results, with one game still to play against Afghanistan.

“When you need to win, you got to prepare better,” Shastri told Star Sports. “I think the selection could have been better, especially for the fast bowlers. You know the conditions here. There’s not much in it for the spinners. I was quite surprised that you came here with just four fast bowlers [including Hardik].

“You needed that extra one… Someone like Mohammed Shami sitting at home and cooling his heels baffles me. After the IPL he had, for him not to be able to make the cut is… Obviously, I’m seeing something different.”

Shami finished as the highest wicket-taker for IPL debutants Gujarat Titans during their march to the title earlier this year. He picked up 20 wickets, but more importantly featured in every match (16). His powerplay numbers were particularly impressive. His 11 wickets in this phase were the joint-highest with Mukesh Choudhary, while his economy of 6.62 was the fifth-best among the 14 bowlers who delivered 20 or more overs in the competition. However, at the death, his economy was 9.63.

Against Sri Lanka, India’s bowling problems stemmed from their inability to pick up wickets upfront. Sri Lanka’s openers Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Mendis blasted 97 in just 11.1 overs to set the tone for their chase. Even though spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and R Ashwin brought them back with four quick wickets, Sri Lanka had already covered far too much ground.

“No one ever wishes to sit out,” Shastri said of Shami’s absence. “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, you need to take a break. You have to do it smartly.”

At this point, Shastri was asked by former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram if a coach could offer his inputs in team selection. “He does,” Shastri replied, before continuing, “He’s not part of the selection. He can contribute by saying ‘this is the combination we want’ then it’s up to the captain in the meeting to take that forward.

“When I say planning, there should have been one extra fast bowler. One spinner less in the [squad of] 15-16. You don’t want to be caught in a situation where one guy has a fever and then you have no one else to play. You have to play another spinner, which can be embarrassing in the end.”

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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