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Despite taking his first five-wicket haul since July 2011, after a stretch of 19 Tests, Ishant Sharma did not bowl with the skill and confidence of someone who is playing his 54th match
Abhishek Purohit in Auckland
February 7, 2014
We should have faced the new ball better - Vijay
Ishant Sharma has 155 Test wickets. Kapil Dev, Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath are the only Indian fast bowlers ahead of him. Ishant is only 25 and will probably overtake Srinath, perhaps even Zaheer, form and fitness permitting. One day, Ishant might be India's second most successful fast bowler.
At the moment, Ishant's average of 38.18 is the worst among specialist bowlers who have taken at least 150 Test wickets. His 6 for 134 at Eden Park was his first haul of five or more since July 2011. It was his fourth five-for in 54 Tests.
On the second morning in Auckland, Ishant bowled a nine-over spell. The New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum appreciated the tireless effort, and said that just when they thought India were going to make a bowling change, Ishant would come back and give his cap to the umpire. McCullum did not mention that New Zealand scored 60 runs in those nine overs.
Ishant neither contained, nor was he especially threatening. The wicket of Corey Anderson was a gift from umpire Steve Davis. That spell, along with poor bowling from Zaheer Khan, helped New Zealand gallop away when they should have been tested under overcast skies with a new ball that was only ten overs old.
Bowling with a 7-2 offside field, Ishant strayed on Anderson's pads in the fourth over of the day, and was picked for four easy runs. In his next over, he bowled short balls at 131 and 127 kph. Anderson swatted both for fours. Ishant then bowled short and wide to McCullum and was taken for two more boundaries.
India had overdone the short ball on day one and had been punished for it. Ishant, however, said they had bowled in the "right areas". He kept repeating the short stuff this morning. Even Tim Southee hooked him for a couple of sixes.
Ishant's colleagues were probably worse. Zaheer certainly was. But a fast bowler playing his 54th Test should be able to pick up the slack when the senior seamer is having a disappointing match, and not continue to pitch short when it is clear that approach didn't work a day ago and isn't working again. After so many years, it is fair to have that much expectation from Ishant.
MS Dhoni had said before the start of this Test that Ishant's role as the third seamer was to contain when the ball stopped swinging. It is probably only a captain such as Dhoni who places such a premium on restricting the run-rate, who could be satisfied with a containing role from a bowler who has played since 2007. It is not to say that there is no need for such a role. Most captain would like having someone who is willing to charge in for long spells. But Ishant could not contain New Zealand, although he did begin well with the wickets of Hamish Rutherford and Ross Taylor.
The fact remains that he ended the innings with six wickets. How much can be read into those figures? Can India hope for a different Ishant in the future, one who can finally lead an attack? It is a hope that has been repeatedly dashed by Ishant, and Dhoni has remained content with a workhorse. That routine is unlikely to change, in which case Ishant's performance today might end up clouding the bigger picture. For on the day he took six wickets, Ishant also played a major part in allowing New Zealand to sprint ahead.
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