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Monday, 29 December 2014

Australia vs India: It's time to tip our cap to 'good' Ishant Sharma............

It is easy to make fun of Ishant Sharma, as we have done a few times on this site. For all his obvious gifts, Ishant rarely delivers on the field. And he has a habit of saying silly things.
But credit must be given where credit is due. It was Ishant, in conjunction with Ashwin, who shackled Australia today after Umesh Yadav had handed David Warner a pair of boosters. Two of Ishant's first three overs were maidens as he hit the good length area at the MCG with the kind of regularity we normally only see Ishant achieving in our daydreams.
The pressure he built up led to Shane Watson’s wicket just after lunch. A similar scenario unfolded after tea, where India’s first five overs cost six runs. Sharma’s spell of 3-1-3-1 reduced Australia to 176 for 5 as Joe Burns couldn’t resist flirting outside the offstump. Suddenly an Indian victory became a possibility.
Ishant Sharma bowled with discipline and control at the MCG. Getty Sports Images
Ishant Sharma bowled with discipline and control at the MCG. Getty Sports Images
Australia recovered to end the day on 261 for 7 thanks to Shaun Marsh but this was India’s best day with the ball by some distance and a big reason was Ishant’s discipline and commitment to getting the basics right. He troubled all the batsmen, including Marsh, who was struck a painful blow in the ribs after a short ball jagged back into him.
“Ishant bowled superbly,” Sourav Ganguly said. “He has kept it simple. He just bowled good lengths, good areas. Got the ball to seam in to the lefthanders. We want to see this length more often.”
The truth is we have seen this length more often in 2014. Ishant has been India’s best bowler this year and it isn’t even close. Say what you want about the quality of his competition, but Ishant is actually the fifth highest wicket-taker in 2014. His 38 wickets are just one less than Dale Steyn, and he has taken them in one fewer innings (14 innings compared to 15).
Those 38 wickets are also 15 more than any other India bowler aside from Mohammed Shami, who has 23. Admittedly, Ishant has also bowled far more than any other India bowler – his 345 overs is 65.5 overs more than Shami has managed – but he has the second-best strike-rate – 54.4 –and only Bhuvneshwar has a better average than his 31.36
Those 38 wickets are also twice as many as any other India bowler aside from Mohammed Shami, who has 23. Admittedly, Ishant has also bowled far more than any other India bowler – his 345 overs is 65.5 overs more than Shami has managed – but he also has the second-best strike-rate – 54.4 - and only Bhuvneshwar has a better average than his 31.36
Those last two numbers are substantially better than Ishant’s career averages. You could argue that he has benefited from bowling in friendlier climes away from the subcontinent, but his away record was actually worse than his career record prior to this year.
In other words, when Ishant says he is a better bowler today, he is right. He is a better bowler by some distance. Still not the bowler he should be – the inconsistency remains and the desire doesn’t burn as brightly as it should - but that doesn’t mean his development should not be acknowledged. Ishant is getting the basics right more and more often and perhaps is finally maturing as a fast bowler.
In a year where India’s bowlers have struggled time after time, Ishant has often been the one shining light. There were back-to-back five-fors in New Zealand, including his then career-best of 6 for 51 in the second Test at Wellington. His morning spell on the first day read 9-2-14-3 as he made use of helpful conditions by bowling a tight line and length. When Ishant does that, he troubles batsmen with the bounce he can gets because of his height. When the ball seams too, he can be unplayable.
His spell on the final day at Lord’s was even better as it carried India to one of their greatest ever wins. England may have played in to his hands by being happy hookers but Ishant demonstrated he could use the short ball to devastating effect.
While Ishant hasn’t set Australia alight over the first three Tests – his strike-rate has spiralled to 82.6 - his nine wickets trail only Umesh Yadav’s 10 and he has been India’s most economical seam bowler. There have also been sessions where he has been the most impressive India bowler, as we saw today.
It was also Ishant who sent tremours through Australia’s batting line-up with an inspired burst on the fourth day in Brisbane. Australia needed just 130 to win but Ishant got the ball to move away from the left-handers and reduced Australia to 25 for 2, snapping up David Warner and Watson to briefly raise Indian hopes.
There is still improvement to be made, of course. Ishant is far from the finished article, even after playing 60 Tests. He needs to produce those devastating burst more frequently. But in a year where India has struggled away from home to take 20 wickets, Ishant has often been reliable and occasionally brilliant. With the possible exception of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, that is more than can be said of any of the others.
We like to pick on bad Ishant. It is only fair that we tip our cap to good Ishant. Let’s hope we see even more of him in 2015.