New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Auckland, 2nd day February 7, 2014

An old issue with Ishant

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

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.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • GV on February 10, 2014, 2:49 GMT

    Awesome comment by Abhi Kashyap. Ishant sharma and Curtly Ambrose....!!! but how unfortunate that it is a real possibility.

  • ESPN on February 8, 2014, 5:25 GMT

    the problem with the indian bowling attack is that they have lack of pace with the line.

  • Dummy4 on February 8, 2014, 3:03 GMT

    Zaheer is done. This is his swan song. The writer points out an interesting fact - Ishant leaked too many runs. One wonders if his 6 wickets were worth all that. Dhoni will continue playing Ishant and other seamers will lose the opportunity to wear the Indian colour. If bhagwan Dhoni is on your side, your place in the team is secure.

  • Dummy4 on February 7, 2014, 23:18 GMT

    Neither a NZ or India supporter, this is what I see: bowler bowling slow bouncers & getting pasted needs to change what he is bowling. His captain set fields for different bowling - either tell the captain your plan is to bounce them out and have 3 fielders on the boundary to catch the mis-hit, or when that doesn't work, bowl the way your captain askes you. Captain: go with what your bowler thinks will work for a short time, when it doesn't work, tell him to do what you think will work. If he can't or the plan doesn't, then change bowlers. Selectors, if the bowler won't follow the captain's plan, find a better bowler. If the captain has no plans, give someone else the captaincy. Dhoni used be a good captain, now he seems a bit like the English captains, waiting for the other side to slip. Australians and Saffers semm to go for the win, leave the draw for when things get dire. They still lose, but go down with heads held high.

  • Jon on February 7, 2014, 23:12 GMT

    I think the stick Ishant gets is slighly harsh. I can understand why Indian fans get angry with him, but lets be honest, any fast bowler who had to bowl on the Indian pitches as their home would have a poor average. Only very few fast bowlers emerge from there with any average to right home about. I must confess I can see potential in him and he could be a good work horse. What I think he and India need to do is send him abroad to play a season in a domestic league. Not a T2O tournament but he needs a season in county cricket. Only by this means will he learn which lengths are required on pitches that actually assist the quick bowlers.

  • Ashok on February 7, 2014, 21:32 GMT

    Ishant Sharma was the best of the 4 Bowlers India had in the XI.So I will not join the Fans bashing Ishant. Instead I will say well done Ishant- 6 a great tally! I only wish India had one more specialist bowler like Pandey or Yadev + India had taken Williamson's catch to save 88 runs. Dhawan failed to get under McCullum's lofted shot. Jadeja, Rohit, Rahane or kohli would have made that catch. So India lost another 200 runs there. So missed chances hurt India badly. Dhoni needs to understand that NZ is not a 500 run side by any means. His XI selection has been flawed in SA Test series & now in NZ series. India needs a change in Captaincy. Go with Rohit Sharma as the new captain. Dhawan is failing consistently. Try Ashwin instead to open -his footwork & defence are good. He also provides a much needed 5th bowler, albeit spinner.It is amazing NZ had the confidence of bowling with 5 man cordon in slips @ <135 KPH & still got India down to 10 for 3 Via Bad batting than Good bowling

  • Pushkar on February 7, 2014, 21:21 GMT

    "We bowled in the right areas" - We never used to hear these terms earlier from any past Indian greats. Today, India bowlers have no skills and they talk about bowling in the right areas! Right areas are those that force a batsman to play and make mistakes by keeping them guessing as to the line, length, pace, movement and variation. When bowlers have none of these skills, they talk about bowling in the right areas. What are the right areas anyways as if it is some secret location that you have to search to find. Damn it, it is anyways just a 2 ft by 2ft square. All bowlers would know that this is the only area where you have to bowl. Move this area a little to the off, to the leg, toward batsman or toward bowler depending on amount of swing in air, off the wicket and the pace and bounce. At test level you should always be hitting these spots all the time else you should quit.

  • SATISH CHANDER on February 7, 2014, 21:16 GMT

    I feel ashamed to be an Indian supporter when the whole world is asking why are you not able to give chances to other players in your country when the current lot is not doing well. I have to tell them than Dhoni is a stubborn captain who says "we have invested a lot into current players - so whether they perform or not we will keep faith in them until they decide to retire" !!! When Ishwar Pandey bowled better in the 2 day warm up, he was not picked up and when your strike bowler Zaheer is clearly not the bowler he was 5 years back, he again gets picked repeatedly - then we all know that no one in the current indian cricket administration cares about india winning matches. They have enough money to earn even if India loses abroad for next 10 years !!!

  • Dummy4 on February 7, 2014, 21:10 GMT

    We keep talking about poor bowling standards from a nation of billion who cannot produce decent bowlers while other countries with significantly less population can. My take is that it does not matter how many people a nation has, it matter how the society is providing a platform for individuals to develop and flourish. The opportunity for Indians to develop at the grass root level is non-existent. We need to encourage & support at the local level -such as schools, colleges, local community teams. Develop sports centers that are affordable to a larger population. We cannot wait for the government to build us everything. Where are the philanthropists?

  • Dummy4 on February 7, 2014, 20:59 GMT

    Ishant has played54 tests. In SA there are probably 4-5 bowlers who will never play more than one or two tests for SA who would do better at test level (even if they had to play home matches in India). Just shows you how cruel life can be if you are born in the wrong time and place.

    Thus I propose a draft similar to the NFL. a country may draft a maximum of two players from another country. Our second string fast bowlers can play for India and you send us one or two decent spinners. Good for world cricket since matches will be more competitive.

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