Spare a thought for the 'death' bowler
The fast-medium and medium-fast men of two great cricket nations have assembled in the subcontinent for a three-week orgy of runs, and as you might expect halfway through an orgy, some of the participants are beginning to look a little ragged.
The details of the carnage are enough to make the ghost of SF Barnes weep: 2267 runs at nearly seven an over. Ball has clattered into advertising boards 224 times and on 62 occasions have the commentators had occasion to declare, "Outta here!" or "He's really got hold of that one!" or "My word, Harsha, doesn't the trajectory of that particular shot remind you of the elliptical orbit of the moon Titan about the planet Saturn," or "Pow!"
Faced with this onslaught of biffery, the two teams have each developed a distinctive fielding strategy. Australia's plan is to bowl the ball halfway down the pitch. Like the modus operandi of the angler fish, which waits at the bottom of the sea with its mouth open, it is a somewhat predictable plan, but it seems to work because just as shrimps seem incapable of evolving an awareness of the difference between small caves and large fish with their mouths open, so each new generation of Indian batsmen seem bewitched by bouncers.
Watching them on Sunday made me wonder if this was how Australia's batsmen tried to adapt to Bodyline. All kinds of shot-prototypes were tried out. Rohit Sharma patented an upright, over-the-shoulder, toe-launched Rohitscoop, which looked rather complicated. Ashwin managed a tippy-toe Adam's Apple throat-glide, which worked, unlike Suresh Raina's lazy hook-pull-switch-nick to third man, which didn't.
India's strategy, by contrast, is to make sure they score enough runs so they don't have to bother about the bowling. But at 76 for 4, construction of an awe-inspiring target had ground to a halt. Enter master renovator, MS Dhoni, the man who has rescued many a behind-schedule building project. He set about repairing the foundations, and then, in the final over, with a whirr of helicoptering arms, he finished off the roof, erected several pillars, an ornate dome and knocked up a quick Sistine Chapel-style ceiling mural.
This sent the crowd wild and caused Ravi Shastri to go hoarse from shouting, which didn't mean that he stopped talking, but did reduce his commentary to a series of guttural roars of the kind you might expect from a particularly amorous grizzly bear in the mating season.
Australia's reply was a little stodgy. Adam Voges was the culprit. The shock of running out million-dollar cricket elf Glenn Maxwell had sent him into his shell and he was in serious danger of being the kind of Boycott-style cove who strolls off with an average-puffing score, when the situation demands a bit of a slog. Fortunately Virat Kohli can bring out the Viv Richards in any batsman. After an over of his dibbly-dobbly wobblers, Australia's run rate had blossomed nicely, and we had arrived at the denouement.
The fate of the "death" bowlers in this series should serve to remind us that any phrase containing the word "death" is bad news. Death Valley. Death Metal. Death's Head Beetle. The clue is in the title. "At the death" doesn't really refer to the end of the innings, but to the injurious implications that last-minute brutal thwackery can have for your career.
No such thoughts were in Ishant Sharma's mind as he returned to the attack with Australia needing 44 runs from 18 balls. In fact, I'm not sure what thoughts were in Ishant's mind. Perhaps he was thinking of cake. Or fluffy kittens. At some point, we can be fairly sure he thought a nice, polite, medium-paced, just short-of-a-length delivery was the way to go. And then he had the same thought. And again. And again. And twice more.
Four Six Six Six Two Six and that, more or less, was that.
The internet hasn't stopped chuckling at Ishant ever since. So what can he do to salvage his reputation? As someone who used to play cricket with a similarly unruly mane, my advice is that he should think of his hair both as a curse and an opportunity. It is true that your hair will be blamed for all your mistakes, from conceding 30 in an over, to bumping into the dressing-room mirror, but if people are blaming your hair, then they can't be blaming you.
I suggest he issues a statement officially disowning his hair, and has it shaved off and burnt in a pre-match ceremony ahead of the Ranchi game. As a fall-back, he should also consider developing a recurring hamstring problem that only kicks in after 45 overs.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here