It might be a choice India will have to make soon. Kumar, who is currently recovering from a hamstring strain, took 5 wickets for 95 runs in the first two matches. Shami, who walked into the team as his replacement, has taken 13 wickets for 125 runs in the last three matches.
Shami swayed popular sentiment in his favour with his headline-grabbing 50th over hat-trick against Afghanistan and his five-wicket haul against England, but Kumar’s spell in the middle overs against Australia was no less valuable. As Australia tried to chase India’s total of 352, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell had both been looking ominous and had brought the side within 118 runs of victory with 11 overs to play. Then Kumar bowled two inswingers that changed the match. First, he rapped Smith plumb on the pads. Two balls later, Marcus Stoinis’s off stump was broken. When Maxwell also holed out in the deep in the next over, the match was all but over.
In Shami’s case, the new ball spell against West Indies had perhaps an even greater impact than the hat-trick or the fifer(which came at the cost of a lot of runs in the death). Using the age-old formula of cranking up the pace at back of a length, he rattled the Windies top order — snaring Chris Gayle into a pull that could never be, and then conjuring a ‘nip-backer from hell’ to shatter Shai Hope’s stumps. Among many others who have put their weight behind Kumar, and not Shami, for the former’s ability to move the new ball, are Sachin Tendulkar and India bowling coach Bharat Arun. Yet the amount of deviation Shami had produced in that delivery to snuff out hope for the West Indies would have flummoxed all of them.
The cushion of Bhuvi’s batting
The problem with choosing between them is that one has to choose between two of the top pacers in the world based on current form. Pat Cummins is the only pacer, across all teams, who rivals them in terms of ODI numbers this year. Before the England match, Shami was fourth on the list of highest ODI wicket-takers in 2019, with 27 wickets. Kumar was fifth, with 24. Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson have more scalps to their names, but have played more matches. Of course, Mitchell Starc and Bumrah were both rested this year and have played much fewer matches than all the others.