With a Malcolm Marshall look alike bowling style, Mohammad Sami made his domestic debut in 1999/00 and was soon rewarded with an international call for Pakistan's tour to New Zealand in 2001 and announced his arrival with a Man of the Match performance at Eden Park, Auckland. He notched his first hat-trick just in his third test match and followed up with an ODI har-trick as well. The only bowler to have taken hat-tricks in all 3 formats of the game. Quick run-up, nippy and pleasing to eye bowling action, Sami was expected to be the next best thing for Pakistan bowling and considered as the ideal successor along with Shoaib Akhtar of the era dominated by the two Ws. However, he was unable to do justice with his pace and skills. It is baffling to the cricket pundits what went wrong and where actually the problem was. Famous for making the most number of comebacks in his so far 16 year international career, Sami could bowl traditional out-swing, reverse-swing and toe-crushing yorkers.
With the ODI and T20 team recently announced for the tour of West Indies, the selectors took few bold decisions by inducting Kamran (on the back of solid domestic performances), Shehzad (assuming he has resolved his disciplinary issues) and Hafeez (for reasons best known to the selectors only). However, the biggest surprise came in the selection of bowlers for both the formats. The highest wicket takers from the premium domestic T20 tournament, Sohail Khan and Mohammad Sami, were totally ignored. Sohail Khan took 16 wickets in the 9 games he played whereas Sami took 12 in as many games. Their averages were 15 and 18 respectively with Sami having a better economy rate of 6.96 if compared to Sohail’s 7.61.
At the age of 36, Sami is still considered as one of the fittest and fastest, if not the fastest, in the domestic circuit with speeds clocking up to 145kmph on a regular basis.
He has been demonstrating his skills as one of the best T20 fast bowlers of the modern era all over the world. Not only he played a vital role in Islamabad United’s victory in the inaugural PSL but also secured 2 Man of the Match awards in their latest journey till the qualifiers. Sami recently secured a $70,000 contract for Jamaica Tallawahs in the Caribbean Premier League, the second best in the fast bowlers category from Pakistan after Sohail Tanvir, with Wahab Riaz only bought for $30,000.
There has always been a debate about Sami’s not so great Test stats (factoring in that he started his career under Wasim and Waqar and played most of the tests alongside Shoaib). There could be multiple reasons for his inconsistent performances at the Test level. It could be associated with his own lack of self belief, his approach towards the game and the captains he mostly played under. Not to forget to get the best out of a genuine fast bowler a captain needs to think aggressively. Unfortunately, if we look behind the last captain Pakistan had who knew how to use the fast bowlers was Wasim Akram. If you ask the world’s best leg spinner to bowl at the pads it takes all the venom out of him, similarly a fast bowler cannot be lethal if asked to contain the batsmen. As far as Sami’s ODI and T20 stats are concerned, they speak for themselves, averaging 1.4 wickets per match at 29 and 1.6 wickets per match at 18 respectively.
Just for perspective if we put the stats of current fast bowlers from Pakistan it might start a different debate.
Overall, only Umar Gul and Mohammad Amir look respectable. Clearly, in most of cases perception is not always a reality.
If the selectors can give Hafeez (36), Kamran (35) and Asif (33) a chance to utilize their current good forms at the international level then why the same criterion is not applied for Sami. Not to forget in the current era with corruption scandals, disciplinary issues and the national coach Mickey Arthur not satisfied with the fitness of current fast bowlers, he is one man with a clean sheet with the desired fitness level for international level.
However, the question remains the same, why was Sami unable to deliver what he was capable of at the international level? Was he not handled with care by the management which never understood how to get the best out of him?