Australia in India 2013-14 October 17, 2013

India's blunt spearhead

Ishant Sharma has been a disappointment in ODIs, proving ineffective with new ball and old for the majority of his six-year career

"I love being the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack," Ishant Sharma had said in August. "It is a privilege for any fast bowler." After the first ODI against Australia four days ago, MS Dhoni said: "As he is part of the side for a long time now, he has to improve his death bowling." Dhoni was referring to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, but one could be forgiven for thinking the India captain had been demanding more from Ishant, the self-acknowledged "spearhead" of his attack.

Bhuvneshwar has taken 25 wickets in 19 ODIs at an average of 25.76 and an economy rate of 4.15, creditable figures for someone who is primarily a new-ball swing bowler. Dhoni is within his rights to ask for improvement with the old ball from Bhuvneshwar, but it must be kept in mind that he has not completed a year in international cricket, and has been the only India seamer to go for less than run a ball in both ODIs against Australia.

Ishant has been playing international cricket for more than six years. In Pune and Jaipur, he went for eight and almost eight per over for a solitary 50th-over wicket. Given the captain's expectations of an inexperienced Bhuvneshwar, you would think he would be setting much higher standards for Ishant, who should qualify as the leader of the attack by the sheer amount of time he's been around. Ishant, however, is falling short.

"Unlucky Ishant" stopped being an excuse a long time ago. Few bowlers are lucky enough to play 51 Tests, and only the luckiest manage to do so averaging 38. A lot has been said in favour of Ishant the Test bowler: that he shouldn't be judged only by his numbers, that he has this rare tireless determination to keep bowling, that his commitment to training is unmatched by fellow fast bowlers in the team. These arguments, arguable at best, don't apply to limited-overs cricket.

Ten overs is all a fast bowler is required to run in for in an ODI. He is expected, chiefly, to pick up wickets with the new ball and prevent the opposition from scoring big at the death. A spearhead might be reasonably expected to lead by example on both counts. Ishant has not. While bowling during the first 15 overs in 67 ODIs, he averages 45.35 for 28 wickets at an economy rate of 5.33. Neither does he get the wickets of specialist batsmen early, nor is he able to keep them quiet. In contrast, Bhuvneshwar has played his new-ball role superbly so far - taking 22 wickets in 19 innings, an average of 21.90 and economy rate of 3.85 in that period.

In the last ten overs, Ishant's economy rate shoots up to 7.38. His bowling average also drops sharply to 24.22 for 31 wickets, which is more than what he manages with the new ball. This suggests that both Ishant's overall wickets tally and average are inflated by cheap dismissals of batsmen looking to have a slog at the death.

"(It is) important we don't give runs with the two new balls and take wickets," Dhoni said. "It is always good to have bowlers who can bowl well at the death also. Especially the three fast bowlers should be able to bowl at the end." Ishant has seldom delivered on either count. For someone who has bowled as much as he has, in excess of 500 overs, only Elton Chigumbura has a worse economy rate. The Zimbabwean at least has his batting to fall back on.

In Pune, after having gone for 45 in 6.1 overs, Ishant had James Faulkner clobbering a wide delivery straight to extra cover in the last over of Australia's innings. He stared hard at the departing No 8 batsman as if he'd earned the dismissal, and proceeded to serve two length balls, one a slower one. No 10 Clint McKay launched both over midwicket. With the new ball, he'd bowled repeatedly short and wide to Aaron Finch, despite the opener's strength square of the wicket, and had been cut for several fours.

In Jaipur, the 45th over of Australia's innings, which went for 17, was a perfect example of how little control Ishant provided to a captain who has partly built his limited-overs reputation on being able to exercise it. Often criticised for his failure to bowl full, Ishant tried doing so. Three balls were full tosses, two of which went for four. Two were wides down the leg side, and he was also fortunate to concede only a single to deep point off a full and wide one. At times, he kept bowling full despite mid-on and mid-off in the circle, and Dhoni had to run up to him in frustration.

In his fledgling career, Bhuvneshwar concedes 8.46 an over in the last ten overs of an ODI, and Dhoni rightly wants him to improve. But with a "spearhead" who is ineffective with the new ball and with the old, and often shows no awareness as an ODI bowler, who can Bhuvneshwar look up to?

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kannan on October 22, 2013, 6:22 GMT

    I request espncricinfo to keep this article open for comments till the end of the ODI series. This is one of the reputed cricket sites, where fans can vent their frustration at the incompetence which they so easily see on the field and which the selectors do not. Indian commentators have long stopped criticizing Indian bowling. In fact they gladly comment on air, techniques which the opposition needs to deploy against Indian bowlers! With BCCI imposing strictures on commentators about commenting on selection, the Indian fans are left with no other forum to get their voice heard. One doesn't have to be a F1 driver, to know which drivers are better than others. Likewise, one doesn't have to be a Test cricket player to figure out competence from incompetence!

  • Kannan on October 22, 2013, 6:15 GMT

    I will not absolve Dhoni of responsibility. He is entrusted to win the match. If the selectors thrust Ishant Sharma into the team, there's nothing that says that he has to give Ishant overs to bowl at the death. He could have given more overs to Yuvraj and Raina, given the way Jadeja was bowling. Agreed, that the lock on the Aussi innings was opened twice, once by Virat when he gave away 18runs and then by Ishant when he gave away 30 runs. I think, Virat, Yuvraj, Raina and Rohit should be made to practice a lot more bowling in the nets. Even if these 4 can chip in 2 overs each, especially when there's a new batsman in at the fall of a wicket, it will make a great difference to the opposition's total being curtailed.

  • Kannan on October 22, 2013, 6:08 GMT

    The Indian selectors are simply amazing. I guess they are taking sole responsibility if India loses all the remaining matches and consequently the number 1 title to Austrailia. Should not then the entire selection committee be sacked for incompetence? I don't understand the logic, morality, sanctity or commonsense in sticking to Ishant Sharma. It does not matter what he does in the nets, when he clearly loses his head while bowling the second spell of 5 overs. I was also disappointed with Vinay Kumar. You cannot bowl a short ball giving away a 6, when the opposition has 9 to win off the last over. I also think Dhoni played it incorrectly by giving the last over to Vinay. IMO he should have given more overs to Yuvraj including the last one... That move would have surprised the batsmen. Ashwin was once again a disappointment, bowling badly in his initial overs, when he should have been keeping the batsmen under more pressure like Jadeja.

  • Dummy4 on October 20, 2013, 10:08 GMT

    I just don't understand why the selectors are still sticking onto Ishant Sharma.. He has the worst ipl figures(60+ runs in 4 overs) and he is the 2nd Indian bowler to give away 30 runs in an over after Yuvraj(however yuvi's case is very rare and he picks up wickets). If we observe, most of his wickets are only catches....very few are genuinely picked up by him. The selectors should give a chance to young bowlers like Jaydev Unadkat and Mohit Sharma..They are inexperienced but if chances are given to them like how Ishant is getting, they will surely prove to be "Spearheads". I hope Zaheer comes back to the Indian Squad. He showed his efficiency in ipl when he took 4 wickets for RCB...Nowadays even Ashwin has lost his game.His ball doesn't turn much and even if it turns, it is predictable. I think we should give a chance to Amit Mishra also.

  • Bhalchandra on October 20, 2013, 7:45 GMT

    Definition of spearhead is the one who could pick up wickets whenever ball is thrown to him. Spearhead could pick up wickets in helpless conditions. Spearhead is never concerned about him being one, instead, he is concerned about picking up wickets in next match. Have you ever heard Dale Steyn calling himself spearhead? No. But the fact is he is spearhead of the attack of whichever team he represents. India's spearhead in test is Pragyan Ojha. He has been picking wickets, if not then helping others pick some by almost drying runs to maidens. As far as limited overs are concerned nobody seems spearhead. It's just bunch of bowlers who finish the quota. Zak we are missing you. Zaheer was true spearhead. One who could pick up wickets of 1-11 no batsman. in any over of match. With whatever ball red or white, new or old. Zak plz come back somehow. I am missing the over in which he bowls five outswingers and then the one that comes in zipping and hitting bell of the offstump.

  • Srinivas on October 20, 2013, 1:33 GMT

    Not only this Sharma, but the other Sharma is a dead-weight too. Players who need to be dropped - Nohit Sharma, Generous Sharma, Pull-less Raina, Domestic Jadeja, Trundler Kumar and may be Yuvraj Singh also. Realise that India is winning in spite of these 6 under-performing players.

  • Al on October 19, 2013, 19:07 GMT

    Agree with arnie66 - @ Middle Stump : Have you not read the article above? His career economy/averagespeaks for themselves...I don't know how he manages to remain in the team. Is it political patronage? Is it favoritism ? When ppl like Zaheer Khan can be chopped for much less, this good-for-nothing keeps leaking 8 runs/over every match. He is nirther a wicket taking bowler nor a run restricting bowler. I admire Dhoni for his leaderrship, level headedness and performance but I don't believe he has not shown good judgement in team selection. His legacy will be tarnished with idiots like Ishant who always deliver sub standard performances ! The real question is who is the selector that keeps selecting Ishant. Maybe that selector should be fired first.

  • Javed on October 19, 2013, 17:01 GMT

    The self proclaimed Spearhead of Indian bowling snached another defeat from the jaws of victory for his team. WHat an outstanding talent Mr. Ishant Sharma is

  • dhirendra on October 19, 2013, 16:58 GMT

    Extremely disappointed by MSD(not talking about his batting) and Ishant Sharma too(I hope everyone is disappointed with Ishant except Dhoni itself).....People always Talk about dhoni's captaincy skill..Really!!!!!!!!what he did today...1-Gave the bowl to ashwin in 29th over for the first time(dont find any logic there) 2-Gave bowling to Virat kohli in crucial moment(NO logic) 3-Ishant proved costly in death overs in past...why did he choose ishant over vinay and others... 5-Post match speech..In which he talked about batting responsibility n all.....It was the bowling MSD 4-Why didn't he tried raina then(In fact Throughout the series and in past too) He is promoting Raina for NO. 4 position to have a BACKUP....Where is the "BACKUP PLAN" for bowlers...why they are not trying 1-Amit Mishra 2-Mohit Sharma and many others...Totally out of understanding...MSD you are excellent in batting but its a wake up call for your captaincy skill !!!!!!!!!!

  • Dummy4 on October 19, 2013, 16:54 GMT

    If Ishant is so hard worker, use him in net instead of bowling machine. He does not fit to bowl in match. We need bowlers who at least has a head not a bucket of hair instead.

    Though India had a smooth transition in case of batsmen, the same is not true in case of bowlers. Rightly, the young bowlers has not one to guide them. Bring back Zaheer for another one year or so. He can at least groom the young bowlers in the team and at the same time he would not bowl worse than likes of Ishant..