'I will have an advantage as I have been training quite regularly. I have been in good rhythm, and luckily, I don't feel any stiffness while bowling full tilt'
The COVID-19 lockdown is a double-edged sword for India's craftiest pacer Mohammad Shami. While it gives an exhausted body enough time to "heal" and get stronger, he fears the prolonged break can also have ruinous implications on rhythm.
In an exclusive interview, the 29-year-old Shami said that he certainly enjoys an 'advantage' over other Indian players living in metros, having constantly trained inside his sprawling ancestral home in Sahaspur, which comprises a mini-cricket ground with full facility for net practice.
"There are two ways to look at it. The Indian team always has a packed schedule and it was a good break which allowed a tired body to heal," Shami said.
"While on one side, you gain physically, become fitter and stronger with a lot of training but not playing the sport means that at the same time the rhythm is not there. Obviously, it's something where you will find the difference. So there are pros and cons and its about managing your body," added the man with 180 wickets from 49 Tests.
As and when the Board of Control for Cricket in India starts a camp, Shami believed that he will have an advantage.
"Obviously I will have an advantage as I have been training quite regularly. This is different from an injury-induced break. I have been in good rhythm, and luckily, I don't feel any stiffness while bowling full tilt."
"This is a phase when you always know that you are there and it's a matter of time to get that rhythm back. It bolsters your confidence."
While he has started bowling full tilt at the nets with his brother facing him, Shami said he still can't gauge how an old red ball will behave without the application of saliva.
Did you try with an old ball at the nets? "No, I haven't," said the man with maximum variations among the current group of fast bowlers.
"If you don't get proper conditions, you can't try bowling with old ball. I will tell you why...," he said before going on to elaborate.
"In the nets, the old ball that you use is the one that's kept in a box for a few days, it will behave differently from a ball that's getting old after continuous use in a match situation. Because a ball that gets old in a match situation is maintained throughout the course of the innings," he explained.
It has got a lot to do with the condition of the leather, he continued.
"The old ball that you suddenly bring out for practice will have a softer feel of the leather and that creates a difference. So, if you are looking at answers, you will only get it in a match simulation.
"So my next target during training is to start with a new ball and try to maintain it without saliva and then figure out how it behaves when it gets old.
"I will have to bowl with it and after may be 20 overs when the batsman has faced it, then you get an idea how the ball behaves," Shami said.
Not using saliva is something that Shami is already trying to inculcate, by constantly reminding himself that it's banned for now.
"Yes, its a conditioned reflex, so obviously I am forgetting at times but luckily stopping before I apply it on the ball," he laughed.
"So it's a good thing that whenever I am training, I become very conscious and say, 'no, I can't use saliva'. The discipline is slowly coming," he said.
But he does admit that he has no answer to whether the ball will be reversing or not without saliva.
"People are asking me this question, but honestly, I have no answer. Because, it's a habit and a theory we have all believed and practised since our starting years. So, once we start trying, we will know better."
While workload management is an important aspect, after a six-month break, no player would be thinking about anything else but game time.
"I prefer game time but, at the same time, one should have the knowledge as to how one's body is reacting to various types of workload.
"Our team's workload management has been great. I believe after such a long break, I don't think that we need to think about workload and stuff. Because, right now, all I want is to be in a camp, think about my practice and start preparing for matches."
The normally reticent person has become more open about his problems as he spoke to Rohit Sharma a couple of months ago about harbouring suicidal tendencies after going through personal issues.
"You should always talk to people around you, who care for you. You shouldn't run away from situations. If there is a problem which you aren't able to handle alone, please never shy away from seeking help and discuss with someone you can trust and confide in. But please talk," he signed off.