KOLKATA: He doesn’t give you the feeling that he’s been around for so long. When he played his first Test, against Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2007, Virat Kohli was still to lead India to the U-19 World Cup. Ajinkya Rahane had not made his first-class debut. Having seen players come into the team and become stars, he became somewhat of a peripheral character: seen, but not heard.
It’s been a while since Ishant Sharma has shed that tag. He’s always had pace, but the ball lands in the right spots more often than not and instead of only bending into the right-hander, it leaves them too. And when he hits the seam from that height, the pacer standing at well over six feet is quite a handful. Help from the pitch makes him a more dangerous proposition.
Unluckily for Bangladesh, they ran into an in-form Ishant in the first-ever day-night Test on Indian soil. After Umesh Yadav rattled their top-order, the gangly Delhi bowler ran through the line-up, displaying hostility and control in equal measures. One of these two traits without the other makes a bowler less effective and after years of underachieving, Ishant has cracked the code. He runs in with purpose and bowls with a plan instead of just hurling the ball at good pace.
This was evident the way he tormented Bangladesh’s top-order in his first spell. Bowling round the wicket to left-handers, angling it in and getting it to deviate away from the batsman is an art that takes some doing to master. Doing it regularly and mixing it up with the one that came in with the angle, Ishant cut a figure batsmen didn’t want to see. Having softened them up early on, he reaped the rewards in the second session.
It wasn’t easy initially as from the normal length the pink ball wasn’t swinging. It took me a while to figure it out and make the adjustment. And although the wicket was green, the ball wasn’t always travelling. Only the odd one was carrying. Otherwise, it was normal stuff like sticking to my plans,” said the bowler, who second five-wicket haul in India came on Friday, 12 years after the first one.
What has he done to be effective over a period of time instead of bowling the odd fiery spell and fizzling out? “I think I have started enjoying the game more. I’m confident of doing in a match what I do at the nets. Earlier, I used to get too worked up thinking how to take wickets. Doing that, I put myself under pressure. A calmer mind and adding variations have been the major changes. I am quicker in identifying the right length. Everybody knew my stock ball would leave the batsman. Now it straightens and holds that line.”
In a career that started in 2008 in Australia with great promise, Ishant may not have scaled the heights he was tipped to at that time. But looking back, he will probably take satisfaction from the way it’s going to end. The first five-wicket haul by an Indian with a pink ball should be a memorable by-product of this transformation.