Mohammed Shami left a lasting impression on West Indies batsmen. (BCCI Photo)
Rohit Sharma walked away with the Man of the Match award as India thumped West Indies by an innings inside three days at Eden Gardens, but his fellow debutant Shami Ahmed, was equally impressive and has made more than a case to be persevered with. While Rohit made a century when India had their backs to the wall in the first innings, Shami proved to be near unplayable for the Windies batsmen, all of whom found his reverse swing too hot to handle.
Rohit had to wait a long time for his Test debut - 108 one-day internationals and six years - but, he came into the first Test against West Indies on the back of his sensational 209 against Australia; and it was that form and confidence that helped him ride the bumpy waves that he encountered when he came to the middle as India were tottering at 82 for 4, which soon became 83 for 5 in reply to West Indies' first innings total of 234.
At this stage, it appeared that West Indies could put a spanner into Sachin Tendulkar's farewell series with a surprise win at the Eden Gardens, but this was the cue for Rohit to carry his good form into the longest format of the game and make up for lost time. And, he did so with aplomb, as he first put together a partnership with captain MS Dhoni, and followed that up with a match-defining 280-run stand for the seventh wicket with the impressive R Ashwin that turned the game in India's favour.
Rohit survived some testing moments when he first came into bat with Shane Shillingford asking the home batsmen plenty of questions. He, however, did well to trust his ability to weather the initial storm and play himself in without taking too many risks. The Eden Gardens pitch certainly wasn't the easiest to bat on and the batsmen had to work hard for runs, rely on their defence and pounce on any loose balls on offer - and that was something that both Rohit and Ashwin did exceptionally well. Ashwin added to his growing reputation as he again showcased his batting potential, and India will rely on him to do more of the same, especially in the upcoming away series against South Africa.
It was understandably a sweet moment for Rohit, and he had this to say of his debut Test: "All I can say, it (the wait to make debut) was worth it, it can't get better than this, such a memorable match, really happy with what we have achieved."
Despite his impressive ODI form, Rohit was under pressure to perform at the Eden Gardens, and he did exceptionally well to occupy the crease and be patient and get India to safety after the hosts were staring down a rather slippery slope. Rohit can be a vital cog for India in all formats of the game as his run-scoring spree over the last two months has proved. There will be slips in form going forward, but as long as Rohit is consistent for the most part, those blips will be excused by fans, his team mates and the national selectors.
Shami was a revelation on his Test debut and he made the Windies batsmen look like novices in the face of his pace and reverse swing. Seven of Shami's nine wickets were evidence of that as six of them were bowled and one LBW.
Shami was also intelligent with the use of conditions as he held the ball short off the length and got it to move off the seam and tail in slightly in the air. His guile proved to be too much for the West Indies batsmen to handle, who were not sure how to negate Shami's reverse swing and seam movement.
He kept the pressure on the Windies batsmen by bowling straight and on the right length. “While our bowlers too were getting the ball to reverse but the difference between them and Shami was the length that he bowled. He started on good length with the ball coming in to the stumps while our bowlers were too full and inconsistent. He showed us how to do it," West Indies captain Darren Sammy said.
Shami may have been helped by the West Indies batsmen's lack of technique and mental strength to combat the reverse swing, but that's nothing to take away from his brilliant use of the conditions on offer, especially on his Test debut. His match figures of 9 for 118 are the second best by an Indian bowler on Test debut, which was just reward for his brilliant seam ball positioning and reverse.
He is going to face tougher challenges in the future, especially in tours away from the sub-continent, where reverse swing may not come into the equation a lot, but that's where Shami will need to adapt and make himself a permanent fixture of the team.
Ashwin, for one, is looking forward to seeing Shami take on that challenge. "Shami bowled really well. Getting the ball to reverse late and it is getting half the job done when a seamer gets through to the tail. He bowled with good pace and got the ball to swing late and I am very happy for him. He got a nine-wicket haul and I hope he carries it through and forms a potent attack with the senior bowlers."
As Tendulkar gets ready to play his 200th and final Test next week, Rohit and Shami have given India a lot to look forward to after the master exits the stage.