Twenty five is a wonderful age. It’s the age at which you venture out in the real world and begin to experience the challenges and difficulties that come with being an adult with responsibilities. You’re old enough to tell right from wrong and yet raw enough to make mistakes.
Ishant Sharma is 25 years old.
Most 25-year olds would crumble and burn with that kind of extremes. It would mess with their psyche and motivation.
But not Ishant. He fights on. He keeps toiling. He continues to quietly work hard on his game, his body. He never hesitates in doing whatever his team and his captain want from him, even if it means letting go of personal glory. Ishant is a team man. He is an honest workhorse. And only sometimes he gets rewarded for his effort.
That time came on July 21, 2014, Day 5 of the Lord’s Test. India needed six wickets to win and the match was drifting away with Joe Root and Moeen Ali were grinding it out for England. Last over before Lunch and MS Dhoni decided to take a gamble. He needed a faithful accomplice and Ishant was there.
The tall, lanky fast bowler bent his back and send down eight overs of intense, short-pitched bowling with a ball that was as soft as a brownie. He bounced five England batsmen out and won India a Test match at Lord’s after 28 years. Ishant had 7 for 74.
In a chat with BCCI.TV, the Man of the Match explained the method behind the mad ploy.
You are a part of history!
Unbelievable! It feels great to be part of the history but more than that it feels wonderful to lead India to this historic win. This is a very special win for us and winning matches for my country is all I want to do in life.
What was the thinking behind the all-out bouncer ploy?
In my first spell of five overs, the batsmen go beaten quite a few times and the ball moved as well. So I thought the ball would still be reversing, which didn’t happen. That’s when MS bhai told me that since the ball has become really soft, let’s try something new. He said let’s open up the whole field and bowl only bouncers. This is the last over (before lunch) and you never know what could happen. The plan worked and we decided to continue with it after lunch. We persisted with the old ball because with the new ball the batsman can judge the bounce with ease, while with the old one he cannot gauge the bounce as some might take off and an odd one will keep low. I feel all the wickets I got today should go to MS bhai because he planned them and set the field for them.
Have you ever bounced so many batsmen out in one innings before?
No (smiles). You keep experiencing new things in life. This was one such new experience for me. I will try to learn from it.
An Indian pacer bouncing out England batsmen – that’s something new as well.
They say the Indian batsmen are vulnerable against the short balls but in this Indian team we have batsmen who can play the short ball very well and we have fast bowlers who can bowl good bouncers at will.
Surprised to see England batsmen playing hook and pulling everything like that?
The wicket had slowed down considerably over the five days and because of the footmarks there was a lot of variable bounce. It was very difficult for the batsmen to leave the bouncers; they had to play it and they had to go for the pull or hook.
Both Joe Dawes and Duncan Fletcher told me Indian pacers don’t bowl enough bouncers. They will be happy today.
They will. Duncan keeps telling me, ‘bowl more bouncers, bowl more bouncers’. But when you go in with a plan, sometimes it works and at times it doesn’t. Things happen suddenly. Today I got to learn that if you keep trying persistently with the short ball ploy on a flat wicket with nothing in it for you, you can get rewards you never expected.
Being the senior-most bowler in the team, are you transforming yourself into the leader of the pack?
When I am on the field, I talk to the other pacers and mainly share my experience in a similar situation. If you want to pick 20 wickets as a team, it is of paramount importance that the bowlers communicate with each other constantly. I just tell them things like how the wicket generally plays and what the particular batsman generally does. I do try to be the leader on the field because I have played more matches than them. But once we’re off it, I am not a senior player because we all are almost of same age. So, there is a dual aspect to that role.
Did you put your experience of playing at Lord’s in 2011 to practice today in any way?
Last time when I picked four wickets at Lord’s, I remember I was bowling very well in the first session but didn’t get any wickets. When I came back on, I got four wickets in no time. It was on my mind today. I knew that on this ground the wickets come in bulk. So, I knew that if I stuck to my ploy patiently, I will get the rewards. I told the same to Shami and Bhuvi as well, so that they keep the belief and don’t give up.
You have copped so much criticism over the years. Does it hurt you sometimes when you hear or read something nasty?
No one has given me as much in life as cricket has. When I go out on the cricket field, I give all that I have, every time. Sometimes, I feel like my efforts are never appreciated by people other than my team-mates. Even today, because I got all these wickets, people are praising me. But had I gone for runs, had the plan failed, no one would have appreciated the fact that I was continuously bowling bouncers with an 80-plus overs old ball. It has always been like that with me and now I am pretty used to it. I am experienced enough to ensure that I don’t get affected by what XYZ is saying about me. I know that my mates have the belief in me and they appreciate what I do for the team. That’s enough for me to carry on. I will continue to give myself fully each time I step on the field to play for my country.