In his 91-Test career, Ishant Sharma may have enjoyed very few days as fruitful in all departments as the one he enjoyed on Friday against West Indies in Antigua.
First, his staunch 67-ball vigil helped India bail themselves out of a precarious position after Rishabh Pant departed in only the second over of the day. A good day turned even better for the visitors after Ishant’s three-wicket burst at the tail-end of the day’s play. To cap it, he picked up his ninth five-wicket haul and then plucked a couple of brilliant return catches – only the second and third of his 12-year career with 272 victims – to put his side in total command.
With the bat and ball, the match situation was anything but favourable for him. For all of their brilliance as a pace bowling trio since 2018, Ishant, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah were not known for adding useful lower-order runs, a luxury only some teams enjoy.
Ishant was peppered with bouncers early on in his innings from Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach and it was a task the 31-year-old handled with aplomb. Rotating strike with assurance and putting a hefty price on his wicket, it allowed Ravindra Jadeja at the other to counter-attack freely as India frustrated the West Indies bowlers.
A score of 297, something that looked out of reach on the first day following a top-order collapse, gave the bowlers a genuine shot at putting the West Indies batsmen under pressure. But it didn’t go according to script for India early on. Certainly not for Ishant.
John Campbell came out firing off the blocks, carrying on his good work from the Windies’ stunning series win over England a few months ago. Most of Ishant’s length deliveries were clubbed for runs by Campbell, who got four boundaries in the space of two overs.
In series gone by, Ishant starting well and consistently applying pressure with metronomic control from the first ball has allowed Shami and Bumrah to thrive at the other end. This time, though, the Delhi pacer was hit out of the attack after just four overs and Virat Kohli was forced to look elsewhere for solutions.
After Shami removed Campbell, Ishant came back for a second spell and removed Kraigg Brathwaite with a smart caught and bowled effort; the ball was sweetly timed but the bowler, having just completed his follow through, made no mistake despite having just a fraction of a second to react.
Ishant’s pulling out all stops on the field was not restricted only to his catching alone. On at least two occasions he saved certain boundaries too. Take his effort on the boundary ropes just an over before he came back for his fiery final spell. Shimron Hetmyer got a thick inside edge off Hanuma Vihari from a quicker delivery with the ball somehow eluding the stumps.
The ball looked poised to hit the boundary ropes but out of nowhere, Ishant threw himself after covering significant ground from third man and getting his fingertips on the cherry just centimetres before the boundary. With the players just returning after a rain delay, Ishant could hurt himself on that occasion but didn’t hold back. Who knows, saving a run there might have given him the impetus as he returned for his final assault in the day to trigger a lower-order collapse.
The wicket of Roston Chase must have pleased him the most. The West Indies all-rounder was threatening to build a solid platform when Kohli turned to Ishant. With a short mid-wicket in place, Ishant angled one into Chase, who flicked it straight to KL Rahul’s waiting hands. Ishant and Kohli’s reaction suggested that it was a perfect setup.
The veteran played partnership-breaker once again to put an end to the Hope-Hetmyer defiance. By this time, he was getting so much more zip with his cross-seam deliveries, they were deadly and had the batsmen poke at it awkwardly. He nearly added a sixth wicket too but Hanuma Vihari lost the ball in the shade after running in from third man off Jason Holder.
From start to finish, India’s day of dominance was punctuated by Ishant’s brilliance. Next stop: he has a chance to better his career-best 7/74 against England at Lord’s by cleaning up the Windies tail with two more wickets.