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Ishant Sharma: The enigma who takes key wickets

Ishant Sharma bowled with with great hostility against England at Lord's in the 2nd Test © Getty Images
Ishant Sharma bowled with great hostility against England at Lord’s in the 2nd Test © Getty Images

Ishant Sharma’s spell of seven for 74 blasted apart England in the second Test at Lord’s. It was the first time in 28 years that India won a Test match at the iconic home of cricket. Shiamak Unwalla tries to unravel the mystery that is Ishant.

There are bowlers you love, there are bowlers you hate, and there is Ishant Sharma. How does one begin to describe him? There’s the easy way: the long hair that sometimes gets in the way of his vision, teeth that dentists would dread looking at, an Adam’s apple more prominent than the one at Eden. But that’s just the superficial aspect of the man.

Ishant is a far more complex phenomenon than that. As a bowler, he has been the toast of the nation — Perth and Mohali in 2008, Kensington Oval in 2011 come to mind — and the universal subject of mockery and derision in almost equal proportion (perhaps more mocked than toasted).

However, India have persisted with him. He has been probing, accurate, fast, bouncy, aggressive, dismal, lacklustre, maddening, mindless, slow, and downright ridiculous — not necessarily in that order — over the course of his seven-year long career.

Ishant is a walking irony. He has been hailed as the leader of India’s pace attack. He has said himself, on more than one occasion, that he is not the leader of India’s pace attack. He seems to perform much better with Zaheer Khan at his side. He abused Zaheer for not fielding a ball with the agility of a hare. He made Ricky Ponting his undisputed bunny. He was taken apart by James Faulkner.

His statistics reflect as much. In 57 Tests, he has 174 wickets, at an average of 37 and a strike rate of 66. These figures are average at best. But then, Ishant is not the type of bowler who gets a boatload of wickets. No, he is at his best when he gets the measure of certain batsmen. And this is where his worth truly comes through. Ishant gets good batsmen out.

Player M No of dismissals Ave
Alastair Cook (England) 10 8 47.12
Ricky Ponting (Australia) 12 7 32.42
Michael Clarke (Australia) 15 7 26
Ian Bell (England) 10 6 10.5
Shane Watson (Australia) 8 5 22

When one thinks of Ishant’s victims, the most obvious player to come to mind would be Ricky Ponting. However, as seen above, that dubious honour goes to Alastair Cook. The other batsmen Ishant has dismissed the most often in Test cricket are Michael Clarke, Ian Bell and Shane Watson.

If one looks at his overall figures, Mahela Jayawardene — with totally eight dismissals across all formats — also makes an appearance. What this shows is that when Ishant does manage to figure out a batsman, he gets them out over and over again. And he tends to figure out batsmen with repute.

His nine-over spell at Perth to Ponting is the stuff of legend. If ever a single spell shattered a batsman’s confidence entirely, that was it. Ponting never quite had the same swagger after that; his drives were less forceful; his hitherto get-out-of-jail pull shot was now unsure.

Against Matt Prior in the second Test at Lord’s, Ishant kept asking the batsman to take him on. Prior did, once. He did it again. He was lulled into a false sense of confidence; the next pull found Murali Vijay in the deep. Prior could have played his final match for England.

Ishant is not India’s best fast bowler. He probably won’t be remembered for his pace bowling feats. But he will always remain the man who made Ponting, Cook and Clarke — if Ian Bell suffers at his hands in the next three games, his name will be added here — his bunnies.

Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014

(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)

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