The BCCI or the captain Virat Kohli might not have communicated it in Cape Town, but Ishant Sharma has said he missed the first Test because he had not recovered from an illness. Finally in the XI, Ishant did his job to cover up for the profligate strike bowlers and the big wickets of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis even as India's fielding faltered to allow South Africa to reach 335 on a pitch that might not be great for a fourth-innings chase.
Ishant has now gathered a reputation for being India's difficult-pitch bowler, somebody who will do the dirty work over after over. Ishant was asked if he prided in the fact that he is not used on green pitches but when long spells of hard work is required, he is called up.
"Actually I cannot blame anyone for this," Ishant said. "I was supposed to play the first Test but I fell ill as soon as we reached here [South Africa]. So I wasn't fully recovered from the fever so I didn't play the first game.
"Obviously, I am the senior fast bowler of this team so I have to take responsibility [of bowling in difficult conditions]. If I am able to take responsibility and take those important wickets for the team, I am always up for it."
One of the big differences in Ishant's bowling has been his assessment of the lengths to bowl. In his previous "unlucky" days, Ishant was guilty of bowling a little too short, failing to get the edges or hitting the stumps. He said keeping it simple has helped him. "I always believe in my strength and my strength is bounce, so I always try to bowl where I can finish my ball on the top of off stump," Ishant said. "So I think that's the best chance you give yourself to take more wickets, so that's what I was doing."
Ishant's first call of duty was to pull things back after an ordinary start from Mohammed Shami, but Ishant defended his bowing mates. "Bowlers are human beings after all," Ishant said. "Not a bowling machine that we can get wickets straightaway. I was not thinking much, the game was opening up a bit because of runs, so my effort was to keep bowling in good areas, and bowl in the batsman's weak areas, set your fields and bowl according to plans. Don't give away too many runs, and that is what I was thinking."
Ishant also defended his fielders, who have been putting down catches at slips. Their success rate against pace since December 2013 has been 41%, but on Sunday, it was against spin that Kohli faltered. The reprieved eighth-wicket partnership added 35 more runs since Kagiso Rabada was dropped, and that could yet prove to be the deciding factor in the Test.
"We have coaches for that and everybody is pointing it out," Ishant said when asked if the bowling group discussed their frustrations overs missed chances. "We don't have to react on all these things because it is part and parcel of the game. You know they are the fielders, and they will take brilliant catches for us, and they have taken brilliant catches for us, and I am sure they will in the future as well. So there is no need to panic in these things. All these situations, it's okay, it's part and parcel of the game. You just have to run hard, keep bowling and give your best to get them out."