West Indies v India, 3rd Test, Gros Islet August 8, 2016

Shami and Ishant - a tale of two bowlers

On his return from a long injury lay-off, Mohammed Shami has executed plans, induced edges and taken wickets. Ishant Sharma, meanwhile, still grapples with familiar concerns

Mohammed Shami has rapidly taken over the mantle as the leader of India's pace attack © Associated Press

Of the five bowlers India have used in the first two Tests of their West Indies tour, Mohammed Shami is the least experienced. He has also returned only recently from a long lay-off forced by a serious knee injury. But over the course of the series, he has become Virat Kohli's go-to quick bowler in every situation, be it to execute a specific plan to a specific batsman, such as his accurate and hostile use of the bouncer against Darren Bravo, or to come on and bowl with the new ball or a reverse-swinging old ball, or, simply, as the likeliest man to break a partnership.

He has become the leader of India's pace attack, taking over that mantle from Ishant Sharma, a man who has played 56 Tests more than him.

Shami did not take the new ball in West Indies' first innings in Antigua. That was understandable. He had not played Test cricket for over a year-and-a-half, and Ishant and Umesh Yadav were the incumbent quicks in the team.

But Shami's status in the attack changed almost as soon as he began his first spell of the series, in which he dismissed Rajendra Chandrika with an awkwardly rising away-seamer in the corridor. From that spell on, he has looked the most dangerous of India's three seamers every time India have bowled.

Of all of India's bowlers in the series, fast and slow, West Indies' batsmen have achieved their smallest control percentage - 77.05 - against Shami. While the number doesn't paint anything like the full picture of a bowler's effectiveness - West Indies have achieved a better control percentage against R Ashwin (81.25) than against Amit Mishra (79.47), for instance - it does suggest that Shami has kept asking them difficult questions.

One interesting number is West Indies' run rate against Shami when they have not been in control. Against him, they have scored at 3.33 runs per over off the balls that have had them in trouble. Against Ishant Sharma, their not-in-control run rate is 2.66, and against Umesh, it is 1.96.

This suggests that Shami has tended to find the edge where Ishant and Umesh have beaten it. In West Indies' second innings at Sabina Park, Shami conceded 11 fours, of which five came off genuine edges and two others off near-edges, from Jermaine Blackwood playing away from his body and slicing the ball wide of gully.

On that frustrating fifth day for India's bowlers, Shami was probably unlucky not to have taken a wicket or two.

Unless it's his injury record that's being talked about, Shami isn't generally spoken of as an unlucky bowler. Ishant, on the other hand, has been called that right through his 70-Test career. His unlucky spells, however, are usually characterised by batsmen playing and missing rather than edging and getting away with it.

Length has often been spoken of as Ishant's major issue, and it has been said that he would become a far more threatening bowler if he pitched the ball half a foot fuller. But in many of his spells, his line has also been half a foot too wide of off stump, allowing batsmen easy leaves outside off stump.

In this series, Ishant has seemed to bowl wider than ever. He probably isn't, but it has looked that way because he has often had Shami bowling at the other end and forcing batsmen to play. They have each sent down exactly the same number of overs in the series - 59 - but where batsmen have left 131 balls from Ishant, they have only managed to leave 87 from Shami.

Perhaps that is why Shami has eight wickets in the series, at an average of 24.62, and why Ishant only has four, at 45.00. Perhaps that is why Ishant, after 70 Tests, still averages 37.05.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • kailas3909563 on August 12, 2016, 22:58 GMT

    Senoirity does not automatically imply leadership. It is born of attitude and motivated by success. Did so many others not become indian captains where sachin failed? Ishant is Ishant, Shami is Shami. Both are gold and great for India.

  • hanaaz on August 10, 2016, 5:35 GMT

    We can all agree that ut Yadav After 70 Test would have average of 33-34 his swing is improving lately

  • Edwin on August 9, 2016, 12:09 GMT

    "Perhaps that is why Ishant, after 70 Tests, still averages 37.05"

    If all Indian bowlers (B Kumar, P Kumar, Shami, Yadav, Bumrah, etc) were fit, I Sharma would never get near the team.......averaging over 37 after 70 Tests is an embarrassment.

  • Vinod on August 9, 2016, 10:18 GMT

    good post.....Ishant& Yadav imho 5c worth are the biggest loss of talents to indian cricket since L Siva in the 80's..Here you have two bowlers with all the right attributes...height, psychique...yet bowling the same dross test in &out...Ishant bowls the same pathetic short pitched stuff...with all the hype about kumble being the coach...can he make ishant pitch it up, bowl a mcgrath like 3rd stump line, bowl at the body, mix it up, conventionally swing it? something he is capable off...just as usual nobody bothers about coaching indian pacemen properly....Yadav-can anil get him to reverse it @ speed, bowl yorkers, bowl @ the body, pitch it up get batsmen on the drive instead of just aimlessly banging it? Here is a true out&out quick but the BCCI is like the dog that finally caught up with the car it was chasing...does not know what to do with it..basically this is due to our media hyping useless batting&spin stats that are never gonna help us win test outside SC..cricinfo plz publish

  • kuldeep on August 9, 2016, 10:12 GMT

    @Cathyshirley agree with i amazed to see performance from starc.he is best at this point in world.so i rate kusal mendis innings s high that they are against best bowler.@stormbinger see truth dude.only one thing matters dude wickets witg low ave,aage dunia ishant ko worst bowler ke aisihat se janegi.fitness is not issue for emitting someone.see dhammika when he will return give more wickets than ishant for his team.

  • H on August 9, 2016, 9:15 GMT

    hi CATHYSHIRLEY we are talking about Ishant dude not Srinath. I still believe that Ishant has fantastic potential and anyway the test match is just a few hours and we shall see wont we? St.lucia pitch calls for Dhawal Kulkarni and even Unadkat or Vinay (great bowlers dropped because of politics I am sure) but Bhuvi? Granted he can bowl about two overs well but the third one and he is all set for the lunch break. He has perhaps the greatest time out among Indian bowlers ever and India should not mess with Bumrah and screw him up like they did Ishant by having him bowl in all possible formats before he could even get Test matches right. I watched the series in which he totally went weird and he should now be helped by the Indian or Pakistani bowling elders. Starc today and someone mentioned Tait who have spent like half their careers fixing injuries. Bowling your rear end off in one series or two and getting two hundred odd wickets before almost being unfit and useless for the game? o

  • cathy.8567057 on August 9, 2016, 7:55 GMT

    Those who are praising Ishanth should have a look at What Mitchell Starc is doing in Srilanka where the pitch outrightly favours spinners. Did we ever experienced this sort of performance from Ishanth? I am not utterly demeaning him. But he was a huge let down in Australia, South Africa and England where he was supposed to do well. But unlike Starc he was a huge let down. If we want to see our Nation in Top in Test Cricket, We should ask ourselves Is it right to content ourselves to the lacklustre potential of Ishanth?

  • kuldeep on August 9, 2016, 6:38 GMT

    Ishant fans wake up.what he done in Sa,Aus,eng except lords test?see ave. Of bowlers who has taken 200.also for @forexcellenceincricket see ave of ishant among spin supported indian pacers?he is worst.please dont support for gods sake and country's sake.

  • Patrick on August 9, 2016, 5:55 GMT

    Well if we are looking for horses for courses we should not be in fact looking any further away than but by looking to draft or fast track Jasprit Bumrah into the team. With his searing relentless yorkers it will surely keep the batsmen on their toes or away from the popping crease at one end. The time is just perfect for his wares right now. His confidence is high, among the wickets, young and energetic! what more can a captain ask for?

  • Krishen on August 9, 2016, 3:32 GMT

    There is no merit in arguments being made by some against Ishant. IND's fast bowlers play alongside with best spin bowling attack in the world (and against other top teams with known weakness against spin) have generally to play a support role in spin friendly conditions / home. Ishant has played role in many of IND's wins including in ENG 2014 & SL 2015. IND missed 2 key chances of Ishant's bowling at Kingstan. IND currently has the best all round bowling attack in the world ( with 7 fast bowlers & 6 spinners ) but there is scope for improvement. IND's test ranking would have been higher but for missed opportunities of test series wins in SA/NZ/ENG/AUS due to batting/fielding errors & fitness/work load issues of fast bowlers. The test losses at Adelaide, Brisbane & in SL were quite disappointing from strategy point of view and not on account of bowlers. IND now needs better batting/ fast bowling/fielding coaches & calm captaincy to attain & maintain top ranking in all formats.

  • No featured comments at the moment.