Mishra hikes the comeback trail
The last time Amit Mishra played for India, in 2011, in his two Tests on the England tour, he bowled 13 no-balls in 81 overs, nine of those in at Edgbaston. In his last Test before that one, against West Indies, he bowled five no-balls.
Two summers later Mishra will return to England for the Champions Trophy, this time as India's best legspinner. He's the best spinner on show in the IPL - currently joint-fourth on this year's wicket-takers' list, ahead of Sunil Narine, R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. In his 45 overs* in the tournament so far, he has bowled one no-ball.
It is understood that the selectors were impressed with Mishra's all-round form - including batting and fielding - during the domestic season with Haryana, where he is the captain. He was picked for the home ODI series against England, and though he didn't play then, the selectors persisted with him to provide MS Dhoni another bowling option.
"I am really happy at the moment considering the amount of hard work I put into all areas of my game: fitness, bowling, fielding, batting," Mishra said, a day after Sunrisers reduced Delhi Daredevils to their lowest score in the IPL, 80, on a Hyderabad pitch that Dale Steyn, the hosts' strike bowler, called one of the worst he had played on. To Mishra's credit, going by the fashion in which he dumbfounded David Warner, the pitch was irrelevant.
Compared to the past, where he mostly relied on his stock legbreak, Mishra has, going by the evidence of his bowling in the IPL, become more versatile. Changes in pace and varations on the googly have proved highly effective for him. And those have not been the only changes.
"Mentally I'm a lot more stronger now," he said. "I'm spending more time studying batsmen, to try and read their minds.
By his own admission a big problem in the past was that he was not disciplined in his bowling and would fall back on faster deliveries as soon as batsmen started to dominate. "He would change to bowling a googly when he was troubling the batsman with legspinners," Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, the former India legspinner, who worked with Mishra for two weeks a few years ago at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore said. "You can see that at the moment he is bowling the right line, right length consistently." Anil Kumble and Narendra Hirwani have been the other experts Mishra has tapped to make sure he is progressing along the right lines.
According to Sivaramakrishnan, Mishra is one of the few spinners who uses the crease well. "His point of delivery is not the same all the time, and that creates different angles," Sivaramakrishnan said.
Another aspect of Mishra's bowling that has evolved is his willingness to pitch fuller, forcing the batsman to drive on the front foot against the turning ball.
A good example of that strategy paying off was the wicket of Warner in Hyderabad last week. Having studied videos, Mishra thought he saw a weakness in Warner's hitting over cover and mid-off. "In my first over I was trying to read his mind, and he was trying to do the same," Mishra said. He nearly got his man with an attempted wrong'un that ended up as a topspinner, but the leading edge was dropped.
"In my second over I knew he would charge me, so I pitched him the quicker googly and he was stumped," Mishra said.
This season he also took a hat-trick in the match against Pune Warriors, which made him the first bowler in the IPL to perform the feat three times (his previous hat-tricks came in 2008, when he was playing for Daredevils, and 2011, with Deccan Chargers).
After the 2011 England tour, shin and back injuries saw to it that Mishra did not make a quick comeback. "I realised the only option left for me was to improve. Not for anybody else but for myself," he said. "I had to upgrade my skills and perform, because once you are injured you are left chasing the pack. The hard work was doubled, and I started playing consistently once again from this season." In the Ranji Trophy just past, Mishra had 21 wickets in seven matches.
A highlight for him was his maiden double-century - an unbeaten 202 against Karnataka in Haryana's final league match. "In the past everybody used to say I could not bat," he said. "I realised that you need all-round skills to stand your ground. Also, at Haryana it was important that I bat to strengthen the lower order. So I became more competitive in my batting as well as fielding."
Mishra's selection for the Champions Trophy squad has become something of a point of debate, with the general assumption being that conditions in England in June favour fast bowlers. The other line of thought was that the team management would likely prefer Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja as first-choice spinners, and Mishra would be surplus to requirements.
However, the likes of Tom Moody, the former Australia allrounder, now coach at Sunrisers, have begged to differ. "I am thrilled Amit has been given an opportunity because he has shown this IPL once again what he is capable of doing," Moody said. "In the 50-over format he will be just as effective at any stage of the innings. He has got variety and he has a good sense of how to read the game, which is important for any bowler. He is a good enough bowler to be able to step up in the Powerplay, or bowl effectively in the middle overs or towards the end."
Moody, who led Worcestershire, and was the county's director of cricket in the early noughties, said conditions were not likely to be a problem. "The tournament is not being played in the first month of the English season. It is being played in the heart of the English summer and he will, I'm sure, enjoy bowling, whatever the surface."
Mishra thinks that with his renewed belief he is capable of regaining a foothold in the Indian side. "I look at myself as a wicket-taker. That creates pressure," he said. "I have felt a legspinner can be in the game always."
10:03:06 GMT, 9 May 2013: The article originally said Mishra had bowled no no-balls in 41 overs to date. This has been updated to include the no-ball he bowled during Wednesday's match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo