One hour that shook Ponting
Irrespective of what has gone in this series and what lies ahead, Ishant Sharma's mesmeric spell to Ricky Ponting will remain one of the highlights of the series, and will be remembered for years to come. Cricket lovers still talk about the working-over Andrew Flintoff gave Ponting at Edgbaston but that lasted only one over. Here at the WACA, the torment continued for an hour. Harbhajan Singh has had his number for some time now but rarely has Ponting been shown up as so vulnerable for such a long period of time since he established himself as Australia's best batsman. That Ishant is 19 and playing his fourth Test only added to the drama and romance.
Ishant had a close lbw against Ponting turned down last evening and, given the ball in the fifth over of the innings, he made it talk. In his first over, an edge from Michael Hussey fell just short of second slip, and in the next over, which was nearly as sensational as Flintoff's, he could have had Ponting twice. One ball jagged in and had Ponting fending; another, that perfect ball which is every right-arm bowler's dream, came in with arm and left Ponting as he shaped to defend, missing the edge by a whisker. And then one came in to trap Ponting in front; it was a decision the umpire wouldn't have been roasted for had he given it to the bowler, but only a doubt about the height will have saved Ponting.
Many would have been excused for thinking that the moment had passed, for an exceptional over such as that would be hard to reproduce, certainly by a bowler of his experience. But Ishant charged on, hurrying Ponting, cutting him in half with a ball that rose and cut off the seam and got him to mistime repeatedly. With every over, Ponting seemed to have weathered the storm for undoubtedly the young man couldn't carry on for ever. Indeed, RP Singh was seen approaching the bowling end after Ishant had bowled seven overs, but a last-minute change of mind - prompted by Virender Sehwag, his Delhi captain - kept Ishant in the fray and the reward came off the very next ball.
It was almost the same ball that got Ponting in the first innings. It pitched around the off stump and rose and left Ponting, who could only edge it to Rahul Dravid at first slip. It was one of those moments where you just had to suspend your national loyalties and rejoice in the triumph of a spirited and skilful youngster over one of the titans of his age. Justice would have got a bad name had he been denied.
Ishant made it to Australia only because of injuries to Sreesanth and Munaf Patel, and played in Sydney because Zaheer Khan went home. But in his short international career so far, he has got better by every Test. Against Pakistan in Bangalore, he shook off a couple of indifferent early spells to claim five wickets in the first innings, and in Sydney, he bowled far better than his returns - no wicket for 146 - suggested. Certainly, he had Andrew Symonds caught behind, only to be denied by Steve Bucknor who failed to hear a thumping edge.
Ishant's ability to get the ball to rise and bowl long spells - last year he bowled 15 successive overs in searing heat in Vijayawada against Andhra Pradesh to earn Delhi a draw they desperately needed - was well known. But in this Test, he showed another facet: getting the ball to hold its line, and even move it a shade away. From the angle he comes in and with the bounce he can generate, that's a deadly ball when he can get the line right. It's no coincidence that all his three wickets in this Test came with that ball.
When they look up the scorecard years later, Ishant Sharma will be found to have only one entry in the wickets column in the second innings. But scorecards don't often tell the story. It was a day when Ishant Sharma shook up Ricky Ponting and set up a famous win.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo