Ishant – the lone pace spearhead
After scoring a solid 73 Kevin Pietersen said, “I found it incredibly difficult to play Ishant today”. It was seeing and facing Ishant Sharma’s bowling on a non-responsive first day track that convinced Pietersen that with two pace bowlers to India’s one, England have an advantage in the Test.
England openers, Nick Compton and Alastair Cook, too would have seconded Pietersen’s thoughts about Ishant had they survived his bowling for more than three and one balls respectively.
When he played his first Test after the ankle surgery, in Kolkata, Ishant told bcci.tv that he has returned a much more mature bowler. And in the first innings In Nagpur, he proved it. He knew he wouldn’t get any assistance from the wicket in terms of movement but there was variable bounce to be exploited. Hence, he maintained a good line for most part and kept varying the length from full to back of a length. His towering frame helped him generate disconcerting bounce off some deliveries, while on the other hand he also surprised batsmen with ones that kept low.
“I am more aware of how and where to pitch the ball on a certain wicket. I know how to assess the conditions and form my bowling plans accordingly,” Ishant told this website after his 3 for 49 helped India dismiss England for 330 on Day 2.
The 24-year-old believes form has a lot to do with a player’s mindset and he is pleased to be in a good mental space. “I think it all depends on your mind. I think I’m running in hard and bowling in the right areas,” Ishant said.
The Nagpur Test holds tremendous importance for India as a team as they seek to salvage their lost pride and draw the series. But it is just as important for the team’s young bowling attack. The five bowlers forming it have 78 Test matches among them, out of which 46 belong to Ishant alone. Pragyan Ojha, with 19 is the second most experienced. Besides being the spearhead, Ishant is also the lone fast bowler in the attack that comprises four spinners.
So what does a fast bowler do when he doesn’t have a partner with whom he can hunt? “As a bowling unit, we hunt in a pack”, Ishant said. Instead of losing sleep over the absence of a second pacer, Ishant prefers to keep it simple. “You aim to take wickets for the team, whether you are a spinner or a fast bowler.”
It sure must have been a different experience for him to share the new ball in the first innings of a Test match with a spinner – Ojha in this Test. But it isn’t something that would distract Ishant from his bowling plan.
”Once you start bowling, you don’t think about who is bowling at the other end. As soon as I start my run-up, my mind is just focussed on my bowling. Whether I bowl with a pacer or a spinner doesn’t have any impact on my own bowling. The plans are made similarly.” he said.
Since his international debut, Ishant has always looked up to Zaheer Khan as his role-model. He once, even admitted trying to copy Zaheer’s action but failing at it. On the field, the senior pacer has played mentor to his younger partners while standing at mid-off or mid-on. But now, Ishant is all by himself. However, he has the shrewd mind of his captain to pick.
“I keep talking to MS Bhai. He’s the captain, and besides, as the wicketkeeper he can tell you exactly what the ball is doing and how the wicket is behaving. The ‘keeper is the best man to speak to before forming your bowling plans.” Ishant said.
While he acknowledged that the void left by experience can never be filled, Ishant insisted on looking at the brighter side of having a young attack that may well give a glimpse into India’s bowling future.
“It’s a good thing that we are all still young and we’re hungry for success. We do whatever is required to get there and we are not afraid to put up a fight. We all have looked forward to performing whenever given the chance and we know this is our chance,” he said.
For the sake of his team, perhaps, for the first time in his career, fast bowler Ishant is hoping that the wicket assists spinners in the coming days of the Test. “I think the ball is keeping low. I think it will break on the third day – at least that’s what we hope because we’re playing with four spinners. We actually thought it will start to deteriorate earlier but it still hasn’t started to turn after two days.”
It was a tough day for India on the field. But Ishant seemed to have brightened up a bit when he got a pat on the back and a ‘Well bowled’ from England’s bowling coach, David Saker. It happened in the middle of this interview. But after seeing Ishant break into his trademark innocent toothy smile at the compliment, we didn’t mind the interruption one bit.