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.
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.