Ishant Sharma should get angry more often. That way he creates chances. He creates doubts in batsmen’s minds. He keeps his focus. He becomes the hitman instead of languishing as the hit-the-deck bowler.
Ishant came into India’s attack in the first hour this morning, replacing Mohammed Shami who had failed to catch the rhythm that had allowed him to create pressure in the first innings. This was a typical situation for Ishant: mopping up the floor after others had made the mess.
Ishant started from round the wicket to the left-hander Dawid Malan. Straightway he hit the seam on the middle stump, straightening it after pitching. Malan was opened up twice in a row. The length at this stage was an Ishant length: short. But the next delivery, Ishant went a wee bit fuller. The ball once again opened up Malan who this time edged to slip.
Shikhar Dhawan pocketed the ball neatly, but more as if he was fielding the ball rather than clasping it under his fingers. He was uncertain if he had gathered it cleanly and asked the third umpire to ascertain. But Malan had already turned and started to walk with his head bowed. Adding to the drama, a disputed soft signal from Chris Gaffney, the on-field umpire, created further doubts for the third umpire Marais Erasmus, and Malan walked back to his crease.
If there is one thing you cannot question about Ishant, it is his relentless spirit – he can run in and bowl for extremely long spells. However, what he has failed to convince anybody – including probably himself – is can he maintain his consistency. Today was a bit different.
In the last over before lunch, Ishant bowled the ball he wanted to bowl. It was his second of the over. The first one had seamed over Ben Stokes’ head for an easy bye. But he followed that up by coming slightly wide of the crease from over the stumps. It was a delivery that pitched on the fifth stump, seamed in. Jonny Bairstow played with his usual hard hands, and the thick edge flew again to Dhawan, who was standing wide at the first slip. This time he picked it neatly. Dhawan patted the inner thigh of his right leg to unleash his pehelwan celebration.
Ishant groaned loudly, raising both hands, shaking his whole body. A slim Atlas, carrying the workload of India’s Test fast bowling for a decade.
Two balls later, Ishant bowled another beauty. With a plan to attack Stokes’ outside edge, he came once again from round the stumps. The ball pitched short of a length, on the off stump. Stokes played for the angle coming in, the ball moved away off the seam, and took the outside edge. Kohli pouched it nicely at the third slip.
Ishant returned after the lunch break to finish the two deliveries left in the over. The last ball, he seamed the delivery from short of length in to Jos Buttler, who erroneously attempted to cut from close to his body, but was caught behind. Ishant thus became the second Indian to take three wickets in one over outside Asia since Anil Kumble did it in Adelaide during the 2003-04 series in Australia.
Ishant had quickly learnt from his mistakes of the first innings when he had persisted in bowling from over the stumps to the left handers. This time, after consulting with Bharat Arun, the India bowling coach, he kept threatening to angle the ball into the left-handers, a particular threat given his penchant for the inswinger. Both men played the line but were beaten by the ball that straightened.
Although Sam Curran brought England back into the match with a classy rearguard, Ishant became the first bowler in a gripping match to bag a five-for. He later revealed he was tired of being called a good bowler but having an empty wicket column.
But what also helped him adapt quickly in this Test was his stint at Sussex earlier this summer. Ishant is the only bowler in the Indian attack with recent county experience, although R Ashwin did play for Worcestershire last season. In his 10 matches, Ishant had bowled a total of 158.3 overs with the Duke ball for Sussex: 114.3 overs in the Championship and 44 in the Royal London Cup.
But it’s not exactly news that Ishant is more than just an able toiler for India. Since his starring role on India’s last tour of England, in 2014, when his second-innings 7 for 74 sealed a famous win at Lord’s, he has been a bowler transformed.
Before that tour, in 31 Tests, he had 87 wickets at an average of 42.63. Since then, no Indian fast bowler has taken more wickets than Ishant. He has 72 wickets in 19 Tests at an average of 27.7, and the most five-fors – five – as well.
Among Asian quick bowlers in the pace-friendly conditions of England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, only the pair of Pakistani legends – Imran Khan and Wasim Akram – have more six-fors in an innings (four) than Ishant’s trio. Today he proved how significant a role he can play: in one over he sent England’s middle order packing without a fuss.