Ricky Ponting is still working out how to tackle Ishant Sharma. You could say he is a bit puzzled. The Australian captain admitted as much as Ishant waited to talk about his spoils at the post-match media briefing.
"He's been a big improver for India through this tour", Ponting said of Ishant, who has already got him thrice this summer. Memories of the WACA Test, where he twice edged Ishant to the slips, during the Test series, seem to still haunt Ponting and he had no answer to Ishant's poser on Sunday.
Not surprising, then, that Ishant knows the value of having the number of the one of the best batsmen of this decade. "Ponting is one my favourite batsmen and if you get the batsman complimenting you, it feels good," Sharma explained modestly.
Even if he was taking the new ball for the first time in the ODIs Ishant had fast-tracked his growth as a bowler on the first leg of the tour to a position where he was able to handle the pressures of sharing the new ball. He stuttered a touch initially; his first ball was a no-ball, the fifth was a wide and in between Hayden edged one just above the outstretched hands of Rohit Sharma at the third slip. He was clearly still settling in the next over and went for 18 runs, including three fours from Hayden's bat.
Ishant wasn't beaten, though, and recovered sufficiently to pick up three top-order wickets in Hayden, Ponting and Andrew Symonds to effectively turn the match in India's favour. Later, he explained his turnaround. "After that over [when he went for 18] Dhoni told me to stick to my plans. He felt I was trying to do something else and instead I should do what I had to. I calmed down from that point."
It wasn't just calmness, of course; it also involved execution of a plan. "We had our plans for each batsman and I just worked on that. For Ponting, it was to bowl to him on the fourth stump."
Ponting reckons Ishant is one of the few right-arm fast bowlers who can bring the ball in and that makes him a difficult proposition. "He's a little bit different in the fact that he probably brings the ball back into right-handers more than most right-arm bowlers we have faced. Normally as a right-handed batsman you usually only get the ball coming back in from left-armers. He's tall, he hits the deck pretty hard and he gets a little bit of inconsistent bounce off the wicket."
Ponting said Ishant has the variety that can also trouble the left-handers and compared him to the Makhaya Ntini in that respect. "He's looked dangerous. With the angles he creates he can be pretty dangerous against the left-handers as well and he swings the ball away from them, a bit like Ntini does."
When asked if the workload has been an issue, Ishant said he was fine even if he felt a "little tired" at the end of today's encounter. "I was a bit tired and I had stomach aches but I have bowled long spells and my stamina is improving."