England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 3rd day

Ishant's rewards for the dirty work

Ishant Sharma is an odd sort of 'attack leader', averaging over 37 in Test cricket and not given the new ball, but extracting England's middle order on a docile pitch showed why he is persisted with

Sidharth Monga at Trent Bridge

July 11, 2014

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A
Agarkar: Bhuvneshwar swung the ball consistently

Taking the third question in his press conference, Ishant Sharma stropped mid-answer and nearly let out a shriek. "I'm sorry, I'm cramping," he said. A Test player cramping in a press conference. In enough discomfort to stop answering a question. It was an endearing moment. It was also one thing that we can be absolutely sure about with Ishant. He goes out on the field, and leaves everything there.

The cramping immediately took you back to the 59th over of the innings. Ishant was in the middle of an intense spell, and fielding at long leg. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was bowling at the other end, and as had been the case until then with Mohammed Shami and him, was releasing the pressure.

The second ball had been short and cut away for four, the fourth was too full and on the pads. Ian Bell clipped it through midwicket, but Ishant - who had already bowled five overs in that spell and would bowl two more - gave the chase his all, and nearly made it. He even put in a dive, but could not prevent the boundary. Had he not gone hard at this ball, he would have been excused, but that would not be Ishant. With the bat, with the ball, in the field, Ishant is the ultimate team man, ready to, as Dhoni demanded of his players back in 2007, run through a wall.


Ishant Sharma exults after trapping Sam Robson lbw, England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 3rd day, July 11, 2014
Ishant Sharma's dismissal of Sam Robson was the perfect example of perfect planning for the conditions © Getty Images
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That, though, does not, and should not, sum Ishant up. He has a beautiful run-up yet often his wrist is not behind the ball. He can go months without looking threatening yet takes wickets in a bunch. He has ordinary statistics yet is persisted with by the team, for which he gets a lot of ridicule from the Indian fans; both "unlucky" and "lucky" are adjectives used in a pejorative sense for Ishant. He has all the physical attributes of a good fast bowler - he is tall, he is strong, he is fit and hardly gets injured - yet somehow it has never come together for a consistent period of time.

Popular assessment - and it could be wrong - is that Ishant is the least smart of Indian quicks yet the most experienced. A nicer way to say that is, he does not overthink. That sometimes is an asset for an Indian fast bowler. You have to bowl a lot of dirty overs or dirty pitches at dirty times. If you overthink, pitches will demoralise you. Every bowler has at some point tried to not bowl a certain kind of overs. Ishant, though, does not. This is different from being an "honest trier".

No one will argue against Ishant's stats, but part of why he is persisted with is because he does not complain about those dirty overs. He was India's best bowler in New Zealand yet did not get the new ball here. The leader of the attack, as Zaheer Khan wanted him to be, coming in when India had tried the plan A, and seen it fail. Ishant was introduced at a time he has become used to: when nothing was working for India.

India knew they were not going to burst through England on this pitch, they had to bowl dry and wait for mistakes. India did manage those dry periods in the first hour - seven runs off the first 38 balls - but they were releasing the pressure. Following those 38 balls, Shami was picked away for fours square on both the on and off sides in one over. Shami actually kept bowling too straight. It was getting dirty on a dirty pitch, and India called on "the leader of the attack".

"I didn't think about all these things," Ishant said when asked if Zaheer's expectations made any difference. "It's just that I have played some more matches than the others. But we are all in the same age group. I am not the kind of person who really shows it to the team that I am the leader of the fast bowling attack. Obviously, when I am on the field, I share my experience that I have gathered through all the Test matches, and it helps me and them."

The difference showed in the bowling, though. There were few soft leaves, only 22 in 22 overs, which is a remarkable stat and vital on this pitch. You either bowl dry and consistently wide outside off to a seven-two field, which reduces your chances of getting wickets, or go at the batsman without straying too straight. Ishant chose the latter. He hit the pitch hard, which exploited whatever uneven bounce there was to be exploited, and crucially bowled fuller than usual.

"I have played enough matches to understand the length to bowl on different surfaces," Ishant said of the adjustment he made. "Sometimes it will get reverse, so it's about knowing the surface and the batsman you are bowling at to get the right length."

Another significant aspect of his bowling was the use of the short ball. Liam Plunkett bowled a lot of them, the other England quicks hardly did. Ishant, though, used it but sparingly. It surprised the batsmen, and this pitch was hardly the kind where you can take your eyes off and duck. Sam Robson was hit on the glove when fending, Moeen Ali when ducking. Moeen was caught off that short ball, Robson later fell to a fuller ball.

Ishant had the intensity and the variation to once again go through those dirty overs. Usually he goes for runs at such times, and his stats get worse. Today on a pitch that suits him, he got the wickets that triggered a collapse, and can still give India a big lead. Listening to him you know it did not happen by accident. As usual, though, the question remains where Ishant goes from here. You can rest assured, though, that he will not be bothered about the cramps.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by hi_cricfan on (July 12, 2014, 17:55 GMT)

@Posted by Facebook on (July 12, 2014, 11:19 GMT). Little more !!!!!!!!!! This is way beyond little more, Isn't it ? Ishant has played close to 60 tests ! So many cricketers in the past were not lucky enough to play more than series or even couple of tests.

Posted by   on (July 12, 2014, 11:19 GMT)

Every captain has few favorites but Dhoni is criticized a little more than he deserves. Its correct that Ishant doesn't deserve such a long run in test side but we should mind that India doesn't have too many pace options either. Dhoni is more or less forced to go back to Ishant. Had others been consistent as Bhuvneshwar or Shami, someone would have replaced Ishant. No one is talking about dropping Ashwin who was tagged as 'Dhoni's pet'.

Posted by Naikan on (July 12, 2014, 10:45 GMT)

@Ramli / Rashiv, I normally dont reply - One by one then- about Tambe - you miss my point - It is not that he should be playing -- (though You gotta be serious if you ask who he is - when he outperforms all top bowlers for 2 seasons in what is essentially a batting circus). I am alluring to the fact that someone like him gets discovered only at 40 (even though he was around for a decade) tells its own story:- If one keeps selecting the favoured few no matter what their performance - then the 1000s of other cricketers will never come to light. As regards Parthiv- of course - he is not good - but like Ishant if he had found someone to back him - Dhoni would not have got a chance. You are mistaken about Ranji performances being a serious criteria - Check out how many of the top performers actually manage to get into the playing eleven. Pankaj is in fact one of those missing so far. One day's good performance - does deserve its credit - But I feel this article gave far too much.

Posted by ramli on (July 12, 2014, 8:31 GMT)

@Naickan ... not necessarily ... with Ranji games watched by selectors and if MSD would have thrashed opoosition after another, he could have walked into the team ... PP has never been, can never be MSD, any day as a batsman and keeper ... it is all conjecture ...

Posted by rashivkd on (July 12, 2014, 8:20 GMT)

@Naikan, Tambe?? Who is he?? You might refer Murali Kartik or Pankaj Singh instead, isn't it? I am a big critic of Dhoni's captaincy, but I think, yesterday he done alright, (I watched the whole game yesterday). Except one thing, he took away Bhuvi after he got two wickets in an over. That might be the plan to bowl short pitched to Broad, but at least one more over should had been given to Bhuvi. Yes, agreed, Binny should had bowled the one last over before lunch as Wasim Akram said during lunch break instead of giving shami's one over spell. Then he didn't got the ball because of specific reason, post lunch session, Ishant is bowling absolutely brilliant and so Dhoni opted a second spell before tea instead of Binny, and after tea, it was a counter attack from Broad, so he decided to bowl the main bowlers.

Altogether, I think, Dhoni's captaincy and Indian bowlers clearly outplayed their counter parts, and Ishant has been the bowler of the match so far.

Posted by   on (July 12, 2014, 7:40 GMT)

If Ishant Sharma is criticized by followers of the game, there are reasons and reasons. One good spell doesn't change anything, absolutely nothing. Yes he has managed to put together 3 decent tests so far. But 6 years of mediocrity after a debut year full of promise is not something that can be ignored with only this much. Lets see how he goes about for the rest of this match, the next and the one after that before even thinking of such judgments. And in the midst of all this, don't forget he managed no less than 7 no-balls so far in this innings. Doesn't really learn from his mistakes, so 5 tests or 56 tests, it doesn't make much of a difference for Sharma.

Posted by   on (July 12, 2014, 7:36 GMT)

If Ishant Sharma is criticized by followers of the game, there are reasons and reasons. One good spell doesn't change anything, absolutely nothing. Yes he has managed to put together 3 decent tests so far. But 6 years of mediocrity after a debut year full of promise is not something that can be ignored with only this much. Lets see how he goes about for the rest of this match, the next and the one after that before even thinking of such judgments. And in the midst of all this, don't forget he managed no less than 7 no-balls so far in this innings. Doesn't really learn from his mistakes, so 5 tests or 56 tests, it doesn't make much of a difference for Sharma.

Posted by Malret on (July 12, 2014, 6:28 GMT)

I think what Sidharth was trying to do was that Ishant tried really hard today and it worked for him. How is that not fair? Today was his day. Let us give credit where its due.

When we criticize someone for not doing well, we also have to praise when they raise their hand and succeed.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (July 12, 2014, 6:05 GMT)

Sorry Sid....always liked&generally agreed with what you wrote but not this one.....based on 1 spell&that one dive U are calling IS a thorough team man, excellent work ethic etc....i disagree. However am not saying that IS is not a team man etc....What i am saying is IS bowled with intensity today, an intensity that was missing, a calmness which was missing, he was bowling in rhythm. I felt he was beginning to get that rhythm&intensity in the Joberg test first innings& also a spell in NZ. But overall, his bugbear has been his length. He somehow HAS to make a concious effort to know that he will never be an out&out quick or even a seamer, but he would be bettee off emulating people like srinath, mcgrath, pollock-bowling fuller, mixing it up with short of length&banging it in as a surprise weapon. for all this wrist position is vital.Hope india get the right bowling coach to correct this else it will be a promising career wasted. on another note...hope this is the last we see of s Binny

Posted by SanjivAwesome on (July 12, 2014, 5:23 GMT)

Sid's usual deeper wisdom is missing - there are lots of other "team men" in India. Dhoni's desire to back consistent under-achievers is to be, sadly, commended because it is the reason behind his performance in tests.

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