England v India, 1st npower Test, Lord's, 4th day July 24, 2011

Ishant lights up the fourth day

Ishant Sharma's five overs for four runs and three wickets before lunch is up there among the best spells of fast bowling in recent years

It is good fast bowling when ball beats bat repeatedly. All of a sudden there is a contest. The bowler's run-up suddenly assumes greater speed and intensity, his length gains accuracy, his line becomes consistent. The batsman is reduced to second-guessing. All of a sudden a spell is born.

Spells are something that form an important segment in the drama of Test cricket. They remain etched in the mind forever. Take Andrew Flintoff v Ricky Ponting in 2005 at Edgbaston; Mitchell Johnson at the WACA last year; Dale Steyn against India in Nagpur last year; Ishant Sharma and his 60-minute tormenting of Ponting in Perth in 2008. And now, Ishant against England in the final hour before lunch at Lord's, where his spell read 5-3-4-3.

In order to enjoy a spell, it is important to stay clued in. That was always going to be difficult if you were an Indian fan, as the circumstances on Sunday morning were in England's favour. It was a wonderful sunny morning; the pitch had become much slower; England's powerful batting line-up looked set to secure their stranglehold over the series-opener. Both sides were resigned to a dull day. But what did they know?

Andrew Strauss left after a brisk start, but in walked Kevin Pietersen, who had trampled all over the Indian bowling attack once Zaheer Khan had limped off on the first afternoon, and gone on to get an unbeaten double-century. But, like everyone else, Pietersen had to start from scratch in the second innings. This time, Ishant had a new plan.

Pietersen was already trying to lord it over the India bowlers by walking across the off stump. In the first innings, Ishant had failed to maintain an off-stump line and an unerring length consistently. On the fourth day, with his first ball to Pietersen he dragged back the length, sensing that Pietersen would charge him. The ball was a screamer that took off and overwhelmed Pietersen, who walked back stunned having gloved the delivery.

It was a mode of dismissal that South Africa had successfully worked out against Pietersen last year. It was also a clever ploy to attack Pietersen before he could settle down. Four deliveries later, bowling slightly wide of the crease, Ishant bowled a perfect legcutter that pitched fuller and coaxed Ian Bell to offer a thick edge. Ishant rounded of a mesmerising spell with one of the best deliveries of the day. Sixteen minutes to lunch, he came up with an angled delivery that pitched on a length before it jagged in off the seam, beating the defences of Jonathan Trott, whose Alsatian-like powers have been well catalogued.

Ishant had taken three wickets in sixteen deliveries. England had slipped to 62 for 5. India were back in the match. There was even an outside chance of them winning it. Suddenly, there was a competitive atmoshphere. England went to lunch with a knot in their stomachs. India chewed with a renewed sense of vigour.

But Matt Prior and Stuart Broad took advantage of an exhausted Praveen Kumar and the absence of a third seamer. Normal service was resumed by the end of the second session as England fought back to take charge of the match.

But it was that hour before lunch that brought the day alive. This was not the first time the lanky Ishant has showed his ability to produce match-turning moments. His finest hour had come at the WACA, where he had dismantled Ponting's mental make-up with aggressive fast bowling in a Test which India won. In Galle last year, in a match India ended up losing, Ishant made Mahela Jayawardene look like a club batsman with both the old and new ball.

It was an admirable performance today, but Ishant was honest enough to admit that things would have been more favourable for India had he bowled with the same plans and intensity in the first innings. "I would have been happier if I bowled similar lines and bowled with the same energy in the first innings as then we could have been in a different position in the match," he said.

In the first innings, in which Ishant had figures of 32-5-128-0, he admitted that he was coming to terms with the dreaded slope at Lord's, as he bowled most of his spells from the Pavilion end. But Zaheer had strongly suggested to Ishant that he bowl from the Nursery end. "My natural ball is the inswinger but the odd ball was holding its line and I did not know much how it was happening," Ishant said about the difference between his lines of attack in the two innings.

There was one question that lingered immediately after lunch: why did Ishant, a rhythm bowler, not come back and re-start his spell? He said MS Dhoni had asked him if he wanted to continue but he decided that it would be better to play it safe. "I had bowled 11 overs in the first session, and there are three more Test matches coming and it is a long schedule."

In hindsight, he might think it was not wise to rest. Ishant is currently in the top 10 in the ICC Test bowling rankings. Last month, in Bridgetown, he took his maiden Test 10-wicket haul, joining the 100 wickets club in the process.

Ishant's spell at Lord's may not have a bearing on the result of the match, but if he lives up to his desire to be more consistent, to not commit the mistake of copying anyone else, to be himself, then there are many similar spells in the offing.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Zain on July 26, 2011, 7:53 GMT

    This is truly a sad day for fast bowling if Ishant, Johnson and Steyn are the signposts for great fast bowling spells in Test Cricket. My honest advice to new age cricket writers is to see the following (all available on video / DVD) before making these "Grandoise" statements. There are moments in these series that actually define what a great spell of fast bowling is all about , and not something you've read about.......

    1 -Micheal Holding / Marshall - 84 series in England 2- Dennis Lillee / Thomson - 74-75 series in Aus 4- Holding - 80/81 series in West Indies 3- Imran Khan (Sydney Test) - 76-77 series in Aus 4- Andy Roberts - 74-75 series in India 3- Wasim / Waqar -92/93 series (1 test) in NZ

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2011, 12:18 GMT

    ishaan rocks!!and we will definitelty draw this one and when all the players are fit, we will show which is the best team in the world!!

  • rahul on July 25, 2011, 9:36 GMT

    @justout . england win the ashes because australians are not like before as they before 2007 and if you saying that sa beat aus inaus in 2008. then india was that team which drew a series with aus in aus by 1-1 in 2004 when the australian side was considred unbeatable .

  • Bobby on July 25, 2011, 9:24 GMT

    This is getting boring- Any Indian bowler or batsman who does do an average job is having an article dedicated to him- Ishant Sharma failed to break a wonderful partnership between a fentastic Matt Prior( probably best Wicket keeper batsman in the world) and Broad. Ishant Sharma along with all other Indian bowlers have been useless and England is now all over India. It will take a magic from a very under rated VVS Laxman to save this test match. Ishant Sharma has been hyped over the years and has not been good enough. Sharma tries hard and one should appreciate it but it is journalism like this that creates a pressure. lets be honest, Ishant Sharma along with Zaheer Khan are above average bowlers who are half of the time injured or incosistent...Spells are good but spells need to win the matches..If spells were good enough then Shoib akhtar would have been far better than Waqar Younis..Lets give a credit where it is due and write something about wonderful innings from Prior...

  • Victoria on July 25, 2011, 9:22 GMT

    @ ironcobra - This is not a practice match, this is a TEST match. The Indians have already had their practice match against Somerset, and didn't they do well...

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2011, 8:55 GMT

    Considering the 3 man attack India did extremely well on the fourth day morning but gave it all away in the next session. When you are one bowler down, you rely a lot on your front line spinner. Bhajji let India down once again. He was tucked on either side of the wicket for easy runs. He never looked threatening or troubled the batsmen. The only troubled he gave was to India and to the scorers. Had he been bit better, India would have had a sniff today and I would have been at Lords !

  • siddharth on July 25, 2011, 8:11 GMT

    @the blue android I think its very wasy for you to comment nonsense. I was at lords yesterday and the spell he bowled was unbilievable. The delivery he got trott out was a peach..Remember 1 thing we are playing 4 bowlers and with zaheer not bowling it was a big handicap. If I say harbhajan was average that would have been a understatement so what optiosn does dhoni have.Stop criticizing and have a broad vision. If we do escape a draw in this one it would be nothing short of stupendous given zaheer, sachins and Gambhirs injury.

  • arpit on July 25, 2011, 7:55 GMT

    @ the_blue_android with zak injured you dont want to risk injury to another of ur front line pacer with 3 tests still to be played

  • PAVANKUMAR on July 25, 2011, 7:44 GMT

    Ishant has been outstanding on overseas tours as expected due to the bounce he generates of most lively pitches outside India. But I'm also impressed with Praveen Kumar's fitness levels who bowled about 40 overs in 1st innings like a spinner. Praveen needs to improve his pace slightly by 10 kmph if he is to become the best in business. Indian team and BCCI should take care of young bowlers like PK, Ishant to make sure they deliver the goods for the next 10 years as they are still young unlike RP singh, Nehra & Sreesanth who lost their way out.

  • sugar on July 25, 2011, 7:30 GMT

    saw the highlights package looked good

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