For every high in Mohammad Shami's curious career, the India pacer has also witnessed several distressing lows. Be it the recurrent career-threatening knee injuries or the domestic violence allegations that played havoc with his personal life, Shami has always been able to script a comeback on the cricket field. A crucial member of the India team in all three formats now, Shami spoke on his battle with depression and how he envisions cricket post the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: How have you coped with absolutely no cricket in the last three months?
A: Well, I have been staying at my home in Sahaspur village in Amroha (near Moradabad) the entire time. I have constructed a small academy where I have been training. My younger brother Mohammed Kaif, who is also a fast bowler like me and plays in the Bengal U-23 team, also trains with me. I have taken the fitness schedules from the team physio and doing everything I can to attain fitness standards international cricket demands. I have been lucky that way that I had my own ground to keep myself fit.
Q: Tell us about your village. How has the pandemic affected it?
A: Around 5000 people live here. And they were struggling to make a living during the lockdown. My family and I tried to help them as much as we could. We have been providing food to the poor. I think that's the least humanity we can show in these troubled times. My grandfather (Mohammed Anis) and my father (Mohammed Taufeeq) have a legacy in this village. Our family has always served the people.
Q: You recently mentioned contemplating suicide when you were going through a difficult phase in your domestic life. Can you take us through that phase? How did you deal with it?
A: Depression is a problem that needs attention. It was unfortunate to see such a brilliant actor like Sushant Singh Rajput lose his life. He was a friend and I wish I could talk to him had I known about his mental condition. In my case, my family pulled me out of that low phase. They took care of me and made me realise that I needed to fight back. There were times I felt suicidal but my family ensured I was never alone. Someone or the other would always be around, talking to me. Spirituality also helps you seek answers. Talking to your close ones or counseling is the best way out.
Q: How difficult is it to deal with mental demons while performing at the top level? How did the team support you during that phase?
A: Mental pressure definitely interferes in your physical wellbeing. At the same time, if you seek help from others and talk about it, you can get rid of such issues off the field. I was lucky to have the team's support staff along with Virat Kohli and other players backing me. We are like a family. My team mates always insisted I vent my anger and frustration out on the field. I am happy that phase is over.
Q: With cricket set to resume, how big a setback will be the saliva ban?
A: It is true that shining the ball with saliva does play a role in getting the ball to reverse swing. It might affect it to a certain extent. Bowlers need to prepare in a different way now. But this rule won't be a permanent one I am sure. Everyone will have to adjust to this new rule. It remains to be seen how bowlers will practise and prepare for this. Things will be clearer when we are given guidelines by the BCCI and train accordingly before matches. Bowlers will lose out on some advantages for sure, but there is no point moping. Perhaps the pitches could be prepared to give some advantage to bowlers.
Q: India will play a Test series in Australia in December. How are you planning for it?
A: I don't plan much for the future. I had a great Test series against Australia back in 2018-19. I enjoy bowling on Australian pitches and putting pressure on the batsmen. We will have to see what kind of pitches are prepared and then plan accordingly.
Q: How has it been bowling alongside Jasprit Bumrah in different formats?
A: I am lucky to have Bumrah bowling from the other end. His accuracy and pace is just spot on. We talk a lot off the field and on the field too. We understand each other's strengths and adjust well according to the conditions. Bowling alongside him actually works quite well for me. When the batsmen are trying to negate his pace, I come in to bowl and surprise them with my swing. Bumrah is a tremendous bowler and I learn a lot from him.
Q: Irrespective of the format, you almost always raise your game when needed. How do you do that?
A: The aim is to keep calm and just focus on bowling a correct line and length. When you do so and not take extra pressure, results come automatically. Test cricket is the most challenging. When you take wickets on the fourth or the fifth day for your team, the feeling is amazing.