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There were many who said he should not bowl short. There were many who said he should not bowl from the Pavilion End. There were many who said he should not bowl at all. There were still more who said he should not have been picked for the England tour. And Ishant Sharma has scripted the final chapter of the greatest overseas Test win for India. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at this incredible performance.
Seven for 74. Seven of the last eight English wickets to fall. The hero of the glorious chapter of India’s greatest triumph in an overseas Test match.
Yes, greatest triumph — because it was achieved on a green track by a team of green horns. Ishant Sharma, steaming in, heels kicking up towards the vintage pavilion behind him, produced the most sensational match-winning spell by an Indian pace bowler.
Why the most sensational? The principal reason is that he has achieved something that no other Indian bowler has ever managed before: bouncing the opposition out in their very den. The entire team played brilliantly all through, but in the end it was Ishant who provided the final blow, a spectacularly demolishing one. It broke the back of English batting by reaching for their throats. The very man who had suffered from being the butt of many, many cruel jokes that questioned his presence in the team had produced the miracle.
There were experts, who kept saying seamers should bowl from the Nursery end, because wickets had fallen when seamers had bowled at the Nursery end. And Ishant captured seven, all from the wrong end — with the pavilion behind him.
Last evening, Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance had just inched their way towards a stable position when Mohammed Shami had provided the crucial breakthrough. And Ishant had struck immediately after that, helped by the ball that kept low, getting under and around Ian Bell’s defence.
The next victim had been Cook, inducing the fatal snick, the ball kept bowled perfectly in the zone of uncertainty which had undone the England captain for so long. But the grandest finale was reserved for the climax of this amazing Test match.
Through steady accumulation and gritty defending, Joe Root and Moeen Ali helped England claw their way back into the game. As the plates were set up for lunch, the hosts seemed to have wrested the advantage. The previous over had seen Ishant taken for 14 runs. The Ishant Sharma jokes had raised their despicable heads on social media. A couple of shoulders had sagged in the field, many in the Lord’s Media Centre. Some of the Indian journalists had shrugged and left for an early lunch. And then Ishant struck, with the very last delivery before lunch, a preview of things to come. MS Dhoni had said in the pre match press conference that Ishant obtained more bounce than the others. And with the ball old and just about to be changed, he ran in and bounced. It climbed on Moeen and got him fending to short leg.
If that had created the dent, the post-lunch period saw brilliance flow through in full splendour. Dhoni had a plan with three men back in the leg-side boundary. Ishant executed it to absolute perfection. The balls were short, the batsmen pulled, and one by one they perished. The flashing blades swished through the air, but the bounce Ishant obtained made the strokes go high rather than long. Matt Prior was held at deep mid-wicket, Ben Stokes at mid-on, Joe Root at deep-square leg. And finally, Stuart Broad surrendered to a tame half-waft and Dhoni holding a good catch down the leg side. Ishant’s 23-6-74-7 had destroyed England and scripted history.
Ishant has often said that he does not consider himself to be the leader of the pace bowlers. But as long as he runs in like this, breathing fire, long mane tossing about, putting fear of God into the opposition batsman, he will do an admirable job of the chief hunter of the pack without claiming to be one.
For now he can put his feet up and rejoice the moment of his coming of age, and doing it in some style.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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