December 14, 2013

Ishant and the matter of luck

His getting Quinton de Kock's wicket was just a case of bad luck for the batsman

"See, it was just a matter of time before my luck with poor fielders changed" © Associated Press

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.

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