Millennium Post

Fast and furious

That did not happen though. But the promise the tall and lanky Ishant Sharma displayed when he famously rendered such a torrid time to the then Australia captain Ricky Ponting at Perth a year later had, perhaps, not entirely been fulfilled until now.

Every five wicket haul in Test cricket is creditable. It is probably worth that much more if a fast bowler registers this on relatively unhelpful fourth innings conditions, when the juice in the pitch has oozed out; that, too, to convincingly close out a match. This is precisely what unfolded in Ishant posting his career-best figures of 7 for 74 and India recording only their second win in a Test match at Lord’s, the spiritual home of cricket, after 28 years.

The last time India achieved this was under Kapil Dev who led India to their most emphatic victory in England till date, a 2-0 verdict in a three-Test series in 1986, which could well have been a brown-wash had the final encounter at Edgbastonnot been interrupted by rain.

Since his Test debut against Bangladesh in 2007, the Delhi pace bowler hasn’t quite set the pitch on fire. Ishanye has undoubtedly had his purple patches; but he has over this period clearly lost pace, without mastering the skill to swing the ball in difficult conditions. Admittedly, injuries have plagued his development.

Ishant passed through a bleak phase after his impressive showing in the West Indies in the spring of 2011 and briefly in the early part of the tour of England thereafter. More recently, he started indicating signs of a comeback with six scalps apiece in the first innings at Johannesburg and Wellington over the winter; but couldn’t finish the job in either series.

He still isn’t doing much with the ball. He, with his height, bangs it in on the seam, bowls off-cutters or just angles it in. But he has of late improved his accuracy; and in the decisive performance at Lord’s earlier this week, Ishant aimed it short and straight to reap dividends. England’s happy hookers, Matt Prior, Ben Stokes and Joe Root, all fell to the short staff after Moeen Ali took his eyes off the ball in ungainly fashion to a well directed bouncer.  Moeen’s wicket not only opened the floodgates, but also gave Ishant a vital clue to demolish the lower-order batsmen, that is to bowl back-of-length aiming at the body.

It was an amusing sight to watch English batsmen literally running scared to face the short-pitched delivery. Ishant was gracious to give part of the credit to skipper MS Dhoni for asking him to use the short ball. ‘Cricket is a great leveller, the way MS bhai handled the team, the way he keeps on motivating the guys. I think all these wickets are not for me, it is only for the captain. He told me you are tall enough, you have to try the bouncer,’ Ishant said after the match. Strange as it may seem, England were done in by the conditions and a pitch tailor-made for their bowlers.

Ishant’s childhood coach, Sharvan Kumar, feels all the criticism the bowler faced in recent times was ‘justified’ and is also proud his favourite ward has answered back in the best possible way by spearheading an overseas Test victory.

‘You can’t deny that consistency has been a big problem for Ishant. Hopefully this will be the series which will make him a better bowler. He got a flak for his inconsistency which was justified. Or else, he wouldn’t have been able to correct his flaws and come back stronger,’ said the Delhi-based coach.
Asked about the kind of problems that Ishant faced, Sharvan didn’t mince words in blaming former India bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad for the problems which crept up in Ishant’s bowling. ‘Ishant is a quick bowler whom Prasad insisted on turning into a line and length bowler. One thing led to other and his action became flawed. The shoulder started dropping and the wrist position also suffered. I told him to look at his wrist position which should be very straight. He was also becoming a bit open-chested on his final delivery stride and needed to go back to the old-fashioned side on action in order to generate speed. I believe the present bowling coach Joe Dawes has done a  great job to sharpen Ishant’s skills,’ Kumar said.

As the most experienced medium pacer in the Indian squad, he needed to lead the attack. And with his latest exhibition in England, Ishant has established he is capable of doing so and much more.
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