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India's hunt for a solid second spinner has led them to the Haryana legspinner, who says he has sorted out his no-ball problems and improved his batting
Siddarth Ravindran in Hubli
December 23, 2012
At lunch on the second day in Hubli, Haryana had reached an improbable 412 for 7, thanks to maiden first-class centuries from lower-order batsmen Amit Mishra and Jayant Yadav. It was turning into a game-defining partnership and both batsmen walked towards the dressing room satisfied with a solid morning's work.
The entire Haryana dressing-room was applauding the pair's record-breaking partnership, but just as Mishra crossed the ropes, Haryana coach Ashwini Kumar rushed out and delivered the news that Mishra (who went on to score an unbeaten 202) was picked for India's one-day squad for the Pakistan series. There wasn't too much of a reaction from Mishra, and he walked on to be congratulated by his team-mates. Once Mishra was indoors, though, he let out a loud, excited yell which showed just how much the recall meant to him.
It's been more than 18 months since he represented the country in any format, a casualty of the disastrous tour of England when India lost their No. 1 Test ranking. As England's batsmen plundered the bowling, Mishra too had a rough time, with a chronic overstepping problem worsening his case, with 13 no-balls in two innings.
Bring that issue up again, and Mishra is quick to counter, even before the question has been completed. "I don't think it is a problem," he said. "Before, when I came back from injury I was aware of the problem, and worked on it, and now in the last six-seven matches I have bowled only about four or five no-balls, so I'm not worried."
India's spin bowling, for so long a major strength, has been weakened in recent times, especially with Harbhajan Singh losing form and his place. R Ashwin has established himself as the lead spinner in all formats but the back-up position in limited-overs cricket is still up for grabs. Legspinner Rahul Sharma rose to prominence in the 2011 IPL but hasn't been able to hold down a spot, and Piyush Chawla was part of India's World Cup and World Twenty20 squads without quite having the record meriting selection. Consistency has also eluded the allrounders Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan. Pragyan Ojha has established himself in the Test side but the selectors haven't given him a long run in limited-overs sides despite being impressive in the IPL over several seasons.
India's spin problems have been eased by the emergence of Yuvraj Singh as a reliable spinner and fifth bowler, but the search for the second specialist spinner still persists. Which is why Mishra says he wasn't entirely surprised at being selected. "The way the new selectors are giving chances to new players who have been doing well … I have also done well in this season," he said. "So I was aware that maybe if I did well then at any time I could get the call."
The battle for a place in the XI is likely to be between Mishra and Jadeja, who has stormed his way back to national contention on the back of two Ranji triple-centuries in a month. Though Mishra may not reach the batting heights Jadeja has, he has repeatedly shown he is a handy batsman.
Even on that ill-fated England tour, there were fighting innings of 43 and 84 in the final Test at The Oval. This season Mishra has hit a crucial second-innings half-century to lift Haryana to their only win so far, over Delhi. And in Hubli, when he inside-edged a ball onto his pads on 109, he walked away and shadow-practised driving the ball before taking guard again.
"You can't just play as a bowler, the one-day format is like that," Mishra said. "You may be expected at any time to chip in with some runs, if some batsman is batting with you, then if you are able to score some runs yourself then it is a big help for the team, the partnership of 100-150 that you put on will be a boost for the team. It also helps in getting you a place in the XI."
Mishra says he has been working hard on his batting over the past couple of years. He's only been required to bat three times in his 15-ODI career, which means irrespective of his improved batting prowess, India will need him more for the wickets he can take. He was terrific on that front in his last one-day series, when he took a chart-topping 11 wickets in five ODIs in the Caribbean.
In India's muddled selection scenario where Twenty20 form can lift you to the Test squad (Rahul Sharma) and vice-versa, Mishra finds himself back in the ODI mix though he hasn't played the format even at the domestic level since October 2011. It's been a stop-start international career for Mishra so far, something he is desperate to change with his latest lifeline.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Siddarth Ravindran
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