December 14, 2013

Ishant and the matter of luck

Andrew Hughes
"See, it was just a matter of time before my luck with poor fielders changed"  © Associated Press
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Bowlers, like professional gamblers, charity fundraisers and sewerage workers need the constitution of an ox, the hide of a rhino and the stubborn persistence of the wasp who is unshakeable in his conviction that the shortest way out of the conservatory is through the pane of glass upon which he has been beating his head for the last ten minutes.

All of the above-named professions involve frustration, anguish, crushing disappointment and long, dark melancholy periods of angst and despair, but three of them are at least conducted in relative obscurity. Bowlers, however, endure their humiliations in public.

So when any of that breed make a comeback, they deserve our admiration. Ishant Sharma was last seen being smacked all over India by various Australian batsmen. I confess I'd assumed he'd taken holy orders and retired to a hermitage. Not so. On Wednesday he returned in triumph, collecting four prime-quality South African wickets.

His bowling still resides on the quiet, suburban side of the boundary between the province of medium and the principality of fast, and he still looks like a roadie for an early 1980s German soft metal band, but he's back in the Indian team and is making the most of it.

After a couple of slightly enormous defeats, India easily avoided losing Tuesday's game and the confidence gained from this non-loss had put Ishant in expansive, ebullient mood for the post-match talkies. He described Quinton de Kock's recent performances as "quite lucky".

We shouldn't scoff. Ishant knows what he's talking about. Having removed de Kock for 104, he clearly has the young South African's measure.

He was right too. There was an element of luck in de Kock scoring another century. Had the bowling been better, he might have been out earlier. Indeed, had he been unlucky enough to face a different set of bowlers altogether, he might not have averaged 114 for the series.

Luck can be tricky though. She giveth and she taketh away, but we tend to remember only those occasions when she taketh away. On another day Suresh Raina might have been contemplating what was for pudding rather than paying attention when the ball flew to him from JP Duminy's bat. Had he dived too late and caught it on the chin instead of in his hand, that would have been Ishant's bad luck. Fortunately, Suresh wasn't thinking of dessert and sprang forward to take a tricky catch, which was good luck for Ishant, bad luck for JP.

Still, we shouldn't quibble. It's good to see Ishant enjoying himself again. There is always something poignant about Indian fast bowlers arriving in a country like South Africa, where the ball bounces higher than your ankle and deviation from the seam is not just a fairy story. They are like prisoners on an escorted day trip, granted a vision of freedom, and of what might have been, if only the fates hadn't conspired to make them Indian fast bowlers.

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Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

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Posted by criccraver on (December 17, 2013, 11:43 GMT)

@McGorium: I do not compare Ishant and Steyn. Steyn is a better bowler. I say that he is not lethal as far as subcontinental pitches are concerned. @Insult_2_Injury:A 750 run innings is not common in Indian conditions. Its just that last series against Australia that has seen both sides going past 300 , almost scoring 350. Earlier it was 280 runs per innings, if you average. This Indian team is highly inexperienced as far as South African conditions are concerned. Rohit debuted recently and to play the first ball in Africa and that too against steyn is difficult for any batsmen.De kock played well but sub-continent is not easy to bat on if you have a quality spinner. Imagine a scenario where De Kock debuting for South Africa(Test Match) and in subcontinental pitches, playing his first ball against mutthiah murlidharan or saeed ajmal. Dont you think he would have struggled?? I think he would have failed miserably.

Posted by Insult_2_Injury on (December 17, 2013, 2:28 GMT)

criccraver - I'd suggest if de Kock can make tons in South Africa, then he certainly will be one of the batsman to contribute a ton in a 750 run innings that is becoming the norm in ODI's on Indian tracks. Actually de Kock came to world attention flaying all and sundry in the Champions T20, which I believe was held in India. Anyway we'll see in a few months when an IPL team buys him. I'm with you Andrew, it's nice to hear a bit of bravado from the Indian fast bowlers when they get to see a turf wicket, rather than their home pitches which are sponsored & obviously maintained by the India Concrete Company as an endorsement of their product.

Posted by McGorium on (December 16, 2013, 20:11 GMT)

@ criccraver: Clearly you are unaware of Steyn's record in India. I would strongly recommend that you educate yourself on his record. He has multiple 5-fors in India, something Ishant Sharma doesn't have.

Posted by criccraver on (December 16, 2013, 8:50 GMT)

Mr. Andrews You take a dig at the Indian bowlers but Shami and Bhuvi play for the first time in Africa.Don't expect them to bowl like morkel or steyn. Morkel , Steyn are good bowlers as far as South African conditions are concerned. I would like them to perform in the same way in subcontinental conditions. They are smashed by our Ranji (domestic) batsmen and and their batsmen(SA) wont even know when that arm ball will go through their defense on turning tracks . I would like to see De kock score 3 hundreds in subcontinent or for that matter even 2 with the same ease as he scored in South Africa. Playing at home is always easy and both India and south Africa are no exception..........

Posted by Killerjools on (December 16, 2013, 3:56 GMT)

I think that for raw talent the talent pool of the Sub Continent particularly India and Pak is unequalled anywhere else. I for one don't quite understand why the Indians in particular don't develop wickets for fast bowlers. If they did so, their own talented quicks would be coming out of the woodwork for years to come, and they would start winning away from home.

Sharma would be a star in any test team and one of the first picked.

Posted by JustIPL on (December 15, 2013, 19:42 GMT)

Decock scored against pakistan bowling as well with good average so he is not lucky but consistent and took full advantage of india's weak bowling.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (December 15, 2013, 4:20 GMT)

For bowlers to grow and mature into genuine quicks, they need to play on pitches that gee them some return. As long as India plays it's cricket on flat tracks/rankturners/minefields instead of cricket pitches they wil not produce competitive quick bowlers.

You can't bake the cake without the oven.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (December 15, 2013, 3:06 GMT)

I think the comment from IS has been taken quite out of context, he did go on to praise Q de K. overall, we would struggle to take 20 saffer wickets, we need a bowlin coach like Craig MCD, else IS, yadav, shami are going to be wasted. Ishant needs to realise that he is never gonna be anout and out quckie, he has to be like glenn mCG, bowl it up, with bounce and aim for slip catches and lb's, his bowling is pathetic and the same for the last 5 years or so, short and sitting up to be whacked. To - Andrew hughes-especially the last para, well summed up sir, but to be honest the day is not far when indian fast bowling is gonna look up, will be the norm rather than the exception-looking at the extensive media coverage and enthusiasm in india it is just a matter of time before we have our first express quickie, just because it hasnt happened doesnt mean it aint gonna happen, when it does.....u better watch out-Thanks :)

Posted by McGorium on (December 15, 2013, 1:56 GMT)

@Afrodizzy: Perhaps. Perhaps not. The environment around you has much to do with your development, and India never had the environment to nurture fast bowling: little institutional knowledge (coaches, ex-players, etc.), placid pitches, and a public that worships attacking batsmanship. One might argue that if he were in an environment that took an active interest in developing fast bowlers, such as Aus, SAF, or closer to home, Pakistan, he may well have been a far better bowler. He has the height, had the pace, and (apparently) the work ethic. My opinion is that he's limited by technical bad habits picked up during his formative years, which are hard to fix later in your career. Perhaps a better coach during his early days would have helped. Who knows. His biggest problem is that he doesn't pitch the ball up enough (rather, that he's not able to move the ball once it's pitched up). Srinath was the same for the early half of his career. Sharma is only 25, so one hopes he can learn.

Posted by   on (December 14, 2013, 21:48 GMT)

Wow, in India everyone gets clobbered including Steyn. Trying to put down Ishanth and saying a better bowler would have got Dekock out is not right. Look at this way, Kambli scored 3 centuries and was not heard off. Hopefully De Kock doesn't become another similar case. He does remind one of Shewag, not much footwork and more of slash and dash..

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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