Shami’s village prays for final flourish from its illustrious son ahead of World Cup final
“Maunh pe ko chadhe [it rises up the batsman’s face],” says a young Vinay Rai as he gleefully explains the threat the delivery of his hero poses to the best in the business; his hero, of course, is local — nay, international — icon Mohammed Shami. Hailing from a Dalit family, Vinay was among several youngsters from Sahaspur, and nearby villages, who had turned up on Saturday to play cricket on the ground that the Uttar Pradesh government has decided to turn into a mini stadium of around 10,000 square metres as a tribute to Mr. Shami’s exceptional performance in the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2023 that will reach its acme tonight.
Hailing from a Turk family, Mr. Shami, a practising Muslim, has emerged as a glue and an inspiration in the village that is hardly 70 kilometres from Madanpur village in Hapur where Qasim Qureshi was killed in June 2018 by a mob following alleged rumours of cow slaughter.
In Sahaspur Alinagar, a predominantly Muslim village, youngsters hesitate when asked to be clicked with cows they tend. They shift the conversation to buffaloes. They want to forget the way Mr. Shami was trolled with communal slurs after India lost to Pakistan in the 2021 T-20 World Cup. But as young Mohammed Zeeshan said they feared the hate could return any day their hero lost his magical touch. “We were worried when he dropped an easy catch in the semi-final but his seven-wicket haul quickly shifted the narrative.”
“Those who say Muslims should go to Pakistan need to introspect whether they want to lose out on assets like Shami and Siraj as well,” said Mugheer Alam, Mohammed Shami’s maternal uncle.
Badruddin Siddiqui, Mr. Shami’s coach in the neighbouring Moradabad, who helped in making the shift to Bengal after his protégé was repeatedly rejected in under-19 trials in his home state, said, “Instead of crying over discrimination, I tell Muslim boys to prove themselves. I know we have to repeatedly prove our love for the nation but sports is a great unifier. People of different faiths and castes drink from the same bottle of water. Now, how can anybody ignore Shami? See, the government has taken note of his performance and a mini stadium might be a small gesture but it has made a start.”
Pushpendra Pal, the local vistarak of the Bharatiya Janata Party, said Mr. Shami was always their own because he is working in desh hit (national interest). “Now, when the PM has congratulated him and a stadium is being built in the village what is left to say? But if the party thinks that the Muslims in the area will start voting for them, it is mistaken,” Mr. Pal said.
The proposal of the stadium, sent by Gram Sabha a few months ago, suddenly found traction after the semi-final with the lekhpal (a clerical post) and his team doing the rounds of the field with a measuring tape and a map. Dr Mumtaz, the spouse of the local Pradhan said earlier it was to be built through MGNREGA but now the government might outsource it.
On the ground, Mr. Shami’s sparring partner Mohammed Sohail, who works in Delhi now, shows the grip of the ball and the value of steely wrists. “Usually players refuse to learn new things or put in hard yards once they make their India debut. Shami is an exception. When he was labelled as a red ball player, he returned to the village during the COVID-19 lockdown and worked on his fitness and white ball bowling. He would dip the ball in water to make it heavier and bowl for hours. Then he would get a sugarcane field cleared and run with a tyre. And we can see the result. On pitches where Trent Boult and Michael Starc look toothless, my friend is proving to be unbeatable.”
Apart from skills, Mr. Siddiqui underlined his student’s fearless attitude for his success. “From a young age, he always goes for wickets. He doesn’t resort to back-of-the-length deliveries even if he gets hit,” Mr. Siddiqui said.
Meanwhile, Anjum Ara, Mr. Shami’s stoic mother, is busy preventing the cameramen from taking pictures of the cot lying in the courtyard of their old home far from her son’s sprawling farmhouse. “Achcha na lage. Kursi ki lo. [It doesn’t look good. Take photos of chairs],” she says, clearly not wanting the press to turn Mr. Shami’s life journey into a rags-to-riches story. “We always had enough. He is a simple, God-fearing boy who is living the dream of his late father [Touseef Ahmed] who could not make it beyond the local tournaments. Wish he were around… When Shami returns with the Cup, I will feed him taheri [a regional rice dish],” she trails off.
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