With Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah injured for at least the initial part of India’s ongoing tour of England, the onus was on the others to shore up India’s bowling attack.
The pace attack came into focus when England began their second innings in the opening Test at Edgbaston. Spinner R Ashwin had been the standout bowler for India in the first essay. But now, there was plenty of swing in the air to be exploited. India had staged a dramatic fightback led by skipper Virat Kohli to come within 13 runs of the hosts’ first innings total. They needed a spirited performance from their pacers to complement the batting effort.
Mohammed Shami, who is returning to the international fold after a tumultuous few months off the field, was struggling to find the form that has seen him register an impressive performance in the first innings. Umesh Yadav continued to stray in his line and length for want of quicker deliveries.
All eyes were therefore on Ishant Sharma to maintain pressure on the opposition. With just one wicket to show in the first innings, he too would have wanted to put in a better performance.
As the senior most member of the pace attack, has always been expected to play the leadership role. Among the current crop, he has been one of India’s most experienced pacers in overseas conditions. However, inconsistent displays have been his bane in the past. But the absentees and state of the current pace department meant that the responsibility automatically fell on Ishant’s shoulders at Edgbaston.
And the 29-year-old stepped up when it mattered the most. Not only did he keep India in good stead, but helped them dominate the Englishmen at their own game.
Ishant is the only member of India’s pace battery to have played in the County Championship in the lead up to the Test series in England. On Friday, he showed that the decision had its merit. He maintained his traditional length - short, but was able to conjure up enough movement off the deck to keep the batsmen on their toes. He got several deliveries to jag back in and a few to dramatically move away from the batsman. He got plenty of edges in the bargain and had five wickets to show for his efforts.
It was a performance that broke the back of the English batting line-up. If not for some rear-guard action from the hosts’, the game would have been wrapped up by India by close of play. But, it was a display worth taking note of, nonetheless.
Ishant came into the series needing to prove his worth after going unsold in the Indian Premier League players’ auction. The snub, it appears, proved to be a blessing in disguise. The lanky pacer spent the period plying his trade for Sussex in the County Championship.
The hard yards proved to be of great value as the 29-year-old got the duke ball to talk.
It wasn’t just the wickets that proved vital, but it was the manner in which they fell that boosted India’s confidence. He squared up Malan early in the day. The edge flew thick and fast to gully. He then bowled a brilliant in-swinger to have Jonny Bairstow walking back to the pavilion. The ball swung in late and quick hardly giving the batsman any chance to leave or attempt to middle the ball. An out-swinger got him his third wicket of the day as Ben Stokes was glued to the crease, hovering somewhere in no man’s land still trying to think about going on the front foot or back.
His next two wickets of Jos Buttler and Stuart Broad were all but similar. Bowled in different spells in the day to similar effect. Both balls were pitched in the corridor of uncertainty right outside the off-stump. The batsmen tried to fend the deliveries away but could only manage to edge it behind the stumps.
In a matter of two spells Ishant had five wickets to his name.
England, who were reeling at 87/7 at one stage, were saved the blushes with a cameo by Sam Curran. The rear-guard action proved how a few missing pieces in an attack can impact the course of the game. But, for Ishant’s heroics, it could have been a lot worse.
The Delhi lad was in a different zone compared to his compatriots. He bowled with a sort of confidence that only years of success in similar conditions can bring to the fore. In 2014, Ishant produced a similarly impressive bowling display in the second innings to lead India to a famous win at Lord’s. On Friday, he picked up five wickets. Few years might have passed but his guile, pace and swing were no different. Ishant proved with time he had only become better.
Experience coupled with the appropriate preparation seemed to have worked wonders. India, though, would do well to not let his effort go to waste.