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Finally, reward for Ishant

India’s bowling coach says the pacer has been India’s best bowler in overseas Tests

Ishant Sharma is an enigma. He has the ability of evoking awe and frustration in equal measure within the span of a few minutes. With 55 Tests under his belt, he is India’s most experienced bowler today, and yet, is only 25 years old. His bowling record of 164 wickets at 37.56 is not a bad one in isolation – given he plays most of his Test matches on wickets that are not conducive to fast bowling – and yet he is considered to be an under-achiever.

Ishant’s biggest critics are also his most ardent well-wishers, for they know what brilliance he is capable of with the cricket ball and the fact that he doesn’t display it consistently, irks them. As they watch his wretched shadow toil through long, tedious overs, they restlessly wait for the real Ishant to turn up – the tall, wiry frame, fiery pace, effortful bounce, stingy swing, mean accuracy and determined eyes.

On the third day of the Trent Bridge Test, between England and India, the real Ishant showed up. After the mostly eventless first session, the lanky pacer changed the complexion of the game with a spell that was worth its weight in gold. In seven overs, he got rid of half-centurions, Samn Robson and Gary Ballance, and currently England’s best batsman, Ian Bell.

He got the odd ball to swing and seam and thumped in an odd bouncer. But on the whole, he stuck to a metronomic line and length that would’ve made Glen McGrath proud. And thus, on a dry, dormant wicket, Ishant produced a venomous spell.

Ironically, the secret to this lethal display of fast bowling was patience. "I didn't do anything special. On this kind of wickets you need to be patient and keep bowling in the right areas and when the ball starts to reverse, it is important to put the fielders in the right place and then attack. That's what I tried to do today," Ishant said of his spell.

While the world was in awe of Ishant’s spell, India’s bowling coach, Joe Dawes, was not surprised. “Ishant as been our best bowler throughout the tours of South Africa and New Zealand. Today he just got the rewards for his bowling,” Dawes told BCCI.TV, referring to Ishant’s 15 wickets in New Zealand.

According to India’s bowling coach, the change in the ball due to deformity, after the 54th over of England’s innings, was also responsible for the sudden bursts of wickets for Ishant. “The ball change proved to be crucial because the old one was reversing a bit and when they changed it, the bowlers began to get conventional swing.”

If Ishant’s spell inspired a turnaround, it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar who left England nine down with his in-swingers to the tailenders. Dawes praised Bhuvi for his street-smartness and skills. “Bhuvi is a very smart bowler – he knows what he is capable of and he practices his skills in a very astute way.”

Dawes also said that despite being the slowest of the three Indian pacers, it was Bhuvi who bowled the best short balls on the day.

“I don’t think the execution of the bouncer was up to the mark today. I’d have liked them to bowl a few more, especially Shami. Ishant bowled a well directed bouncer to Bell and got him. I felt Shami should’ve bowled more short balls. Bhuvi bowled the best bouncers today,” he said.

Shirin Sadikot

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The Bhuvi and Shami show

India’s No. 9 and 11 talk about their resolute and courageous batting stand

Mohammad Shami, India’s No. 11, walked in to bat at Trent Bridge in the fifth over after Lunch on Day 2.

In those five overs, India had lost four wickets for four runs. Welcoming him at the crease was Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the No. 9.

Since coming to England, these two must have spent hours discussing their bowling strategies and studying the opposition batsmen. But in their first alliance in a Test match in England they were figuring out how to counter the English bowlers.

They did a pretty decent job too, forming a 111-run partnership for the 10th wicket – the best in Test cricket by India’s 9 and jack against England.

En route, both the pacers got to their respective maiden Test fifties. But more importantly, they gave themselves some invaluable extra runs to bowl with on a wicket that is more Nagpur than Nottingham.

After the day’s play, Bhuvi and Shami paired up again, this time, to chat with BCCI.TV about their partnership.

Here is the conversation…

What was the plan when you came together in the middle?

Bhuvi: We knew that being the tailenders we could get out any time. But we decided that we would not get out playing a bad shot. When we both reached our 30s, I told Shami that we need to be more focused now since we’re not used to batting for long periods and so our concentration level is not so high. So, we tried harder to focus in the latter part of the innings than we did initially.

Shami: While we were batting together we were backing each other on the slow and low wicket. We said, we have to bowl on this wicket next and the more runs we score, the easier it will be for us to defend them.

What was the immediate course of action when Shami joined in?

Bhuvi: I was batting for a while when Shami came in. So I thought I would first let him watch from the other end how the wicket is playing and what the bowlers are up to. We decided that I will play out most of the first three-four overs and give him only the last ball or two. He settled down after five-six overs because the wicket was not difficult to bat on.

Shami: I was happy to watch from the other end for a while and it was a mutual decision. We don’t bat together very often and only one mistake is enough to end it all. We knew we wouldn’t get many chances to bat on such (batting friendly) wicket in England, and so we decided to make the most of it. It was wonderful that we did it when the team needed us to.

You two played some entertaining and good-looking shots off the England bowlers. Did you enjoy those?

Bhuvi: The inside-out cover drive off Moeen Ali was my favourite shot of the innings. Once you get set, it gets easier to hit such shots. As I said, all you have to ensure is that you don’t lose your concentration. It happened once or twice that both of us played a rash shot but we were lucky to not get out. It is a very different feeling to score your first Test fifty and that too overseas.

Shami (on hitting James Anderson for a four over midwicket and a six over long-on): If the ball is in my radar, I just go for the shot without bothering who the bowler is. But it was fun.

Did any of you know that Shami edged one to the keeper off Plunkett?

Shami: Honestly, I didn’t feel the edge. The strap on my helmet was moving and hitting the helmet quite a bit. So, I just thought it was that sound. When they started to appeal, I was wondering what it was for. It turned out to be a very fine edge.

Bhuvi: I too didn’t hear anything from the non-striker’s end and even the bowler didn’t appeal. It was just one of those faint edges that no one realized of. Hard luck to them.

How do you plan to bowl on this wicket?

Shami: The most important thing on this wicket will be the use of the new ball. We have to make the most of it while it is still hard and swinging. We will have to ensure that we make the batsmen play and try to get them out. It will take a lot of hard work to get the ball to reverse in these conditions and wicket. It is easier to get the SG ball to reverse; preparing the Duke ball will be a lot tougher. So, the key for us is the new ball.

Bhuvi: Whether the ball reverses or not is something we will see later on. But for me it will be crucial to bowl stump to stump – full and straight. Our main plan will be to get them out bowled or lbw and take the pitch out of equation.

Shirin Sadikot

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