Is it because the batters in India are better able to take on wrist spin than in other parts of the world? Or because there are more right-handers in the Indian lineup than some of the others Shamsi has played against? Is it that his height is not right? Or that his pace is too slow?
Whatever it is, South Africa isn’t too concerned at the moment. “I don’t think he really had a bad outing,” said Keshav Maharaj, who is now South Africa’s top pick across all formats. “I know numbers aren’t always a true representation of how someone bowls. The Indian batters had to pick someone up and unfortunately it was him. I don’t think he’s a problem. We know what Shammo is capable of and it’s just a matter of of time before it bounces back.”
This bounce back line is a line that South Africa uses a lot. They have echoed their captain Temba Bavuma, who has scored just 11 runs and faced 31 balls in the four internationals he has played since returning from an elbow injury. Bavuma will lead them and open the battle at the T20 World Cup in Australia in just over two weeks and despite mounting pressure from outside the camp, everyone from coach Mark Boucher to South Africa’s newest T20I centurion Rilee Rossouw , said they “support him”.
Similarly, players including David Miller posted congratulations to Shamsi after the first ODI where he gave up 89 runs in eight overs but took his 50th wicket in the format.
Ruturaj Gaikwad was the batter who knocked out Shamsi, in his first over, when India’s number 3 skipped the lane trying to hit Shamsi over the offside line, but was beaten by a dip and a twist and punch. Maharaj called the wicket ‘critical’ as it ‘opened an end for us’. In the next over, Maharaj had caught Ishan Kishan on leg slip and India was reduced to 51 for 4, a position from which it looked like they would not recover. But Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur and Sanju Samson came together to get India close. They did it by attacking Shamsi.
Iyer hit 20 runs of the 12 deliveries Shamsi threw at him, including four fours, and Samson looted 50 runs off the bowler’s 23 balls, with six fours and two sixes. With Shamsi bowling through the air slower than Maharaj, for example, he let the Indian batters use their feet against him and gave in heavily. Maharaj dismissed it as one of those things that will happen one day when the target is big and the opposition just goes for it. Instead, he praised Shamsi for holding it together when it mattered most. “He kept his nerves very well at the back,” said Maharaj, referring to Shamsi’s final, as he defended 30.
In the end, South Africa won, but there may be some headaches about their tactics. Given the way Shamsi was bowling, it made sense to postpone his final as late as possible in the hopes that India would need too many runs, or that Samson would be down. The first happened, but there were still nerve-wracking moments when it looked like India could take the win. An argument could have been made to use part-time offspinner Aiden Markram to bowl an over earlier in the innings and stop using Shamsi altogether, but South Africa’s options were limited by Dwaine Pretorius’ injury and their decision to only five specialist bowlers to play. . A bigger question will be why Shamsi seems to be losing control while playing in India and what that means as South Africa works their way up to the T20 World Cup, where Shamsi should be one of their trump cards.
Whether that was a veiled reminder that it was his end winning the first ODI and securing the 10 World Cup Super League points South Africa so desperately needed, or about the bigger picture after South Africa’s defeat in the T20 series, we won’t know. But we’re probably on the right track if we think it has something to do with Shamsi’s performances in India.