Ice baths, fresh shirts kept Mohammad Shami going during his hot streak on Day 5

Sriram Veera
Mohammed Shami’s 5 for 35 in the second innings broke the back of the South African batting line-up. (PTI)

“One isn’t enough, you have to take five” (Ek kaafi nahi hai, paanch chahiye!) was the call from Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun when Mohammad Shami rushed in to the dressing room at the end of his first spell on the final day, after he had removed Temba Bavuma with a skimming skidder. “Haan, ley lenge,” (Yes, will do) said Shami in his nonchalant drawl.

Everything was ready in the change room. The bucket of ice bath, fresh T-shirt, already soaked in ice water and dried up on a chair (he went through at least four-to-five changes through the day). There is perhaps nothing more important than the ice-bath dunk in terms of recovery in the change rooms across the world, the Indian team certainly swears by it.

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The theory is simple: Too much lactic acid build-up leads to muscle fatigue and the chilly ice bath makes the blood vessels to tighten which helps in draining the lactic acid out of tired muscles. It helps the muscles in making an immediate recovery.

The temperature in the bath is carefully monitored by the physio and it depends on the heat on that day. In Vizag, on the final day, Shami’s ice baths ranged from 8 to 15 degrees to suit to the time of the day when he took it. He had one ice bath after the first spell and then another later in the day. The players get 10 minutes of dressing-room rest time in a match day these days. Legally allowed, barring any injuries and such. And so, a great deal of planning goes into using those 600 seconds as wisely as possible.

Jubilant teammates applaud Mohammed Shami as he holds a stump broken by him on the final day of the first Test against South Africa in Visakhapatnam on Sunday. India won the match by 203 runs. (PTI)

As soon as Shami came in, he was dunked into the bath, fresh clothes are kept ready, socks changes if any are done and he is back to the field. Since it’s Shami who rushes only when he is in the mood, when he senses something is on offer on the pitch, and sprints in his run-up, there is always a quick shout of encouragement and reminders about his talent and what he needs to do on field during these change-overs. “Haan, ley lenge” is one such laconic response that broke South Africa’s back.

Madan Lal, the former India pacer, was on Shastri’s mind on that last day. Not that Shami’s bowling reminded him of Madan, but the skidding deliveries had him thinking of December 1981 Test against England when Madan and Kapil Dev took five wickets apiece in the fourth innings to win the game. Something, in the way the balls were skidding at Vizag, had Shastri talking about Madan in the dressing room. Of his five wickets, Madan had two lbws and two bowled as the deliveries skidded through a touch low.

Madan Lal doesn’t himself remember that day all that clearly. “I would say Shami’s effort in Vizag was really great. The Bombay pitch that time did help spinners but the way the pitch was up-down, we knew we seamers were in a real chance. Shami’s effort at Vizag was really special I would say,” Madan says. That game did run a similar script in terms of Indian bowling. Like Ashwin, Dilip Doshi took a five-for in the first innings before the seamers took total control in the second innings.

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These days, as Shami has shared it in the past, he and his fellow seamers get to decide the extent of spells. “The captain lets them (seamers) do what they want. He gives freedom to choose whether they want a short spell or a long spell. Bowlers are aware how they could be lot more effective and convey it to the captain,” Arun said on Tuesday.

Arun also talked about the lines they chose at the Vizag Test on the last day. “Even though the wicket was abrasive, the ball didn’t reverse that much as it normally happens on Indian wickets. You then adjust your line and length when the ball is not reversing. The particular wicket tended to keep a bit low, and we realized that it has to be more stump line and not outside the off-stump. Shami got four out of his five wickets bowled, so the line changes, how quickly a bowler is aware of what is happening gives the chance of success,” Arun said.

38 years after Madan’s heroics, more of the same happened; the spinner in the first innings and the pacer doing the damage in the fourth. Except for the ice bath, of course. Back then, the players would probably have had ice only in their drinks on match evenings.