There is every chance that the Lord’s Test of 2014 can make one wonder with a hint of bemusement. Such was the manner in which events unfolded in the match: Virat Kohli managed just 25 runs across two innings, Ben Stokes got a pair, India’s bowlers won them the match (with the bat too), and of course, the excellent use of the short ball by Ishant Sharma.
Mind you, Sharma was still struggling to find a regular place in the side although, away from home, the pacer had a few notable spells. A summer earlier, he had a limited-overs tour to forget at home against Australia, repeatedly targeted by all-rounder James Faulkner.
India had the upper hand after setting England 319 to win. With the bat, Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvneshwar Kumar (in both innings) and Ravindra Jadeja made notable contributions. There was plenty for the bowlers throughout the Test but MS Dhoni still had a task on his hands. His side were pummeled 0-4 in 2011 but managed to earn a creditable draw in the first match of this series. As for Sharma, it was not as if he had enjoyed a great deal of success with the short ball at the time.
Sharma’s epic spell of 7/74 can be split into two halves. First, on day four, he impressed with his seam presentation, removing the key wickets of Ian Bell and Alastair Cook in quick succession. The one that deceived Bell kept low and crashed onto the stumps while going over the wicket. Sharma went around the wicket to probe Cook outside off-stump.
The England captain was going through a barren run with the bat and was on his way after nicking it to Dhoni behind the stumps. England were in trouble but a steely partnership from Joe Root and Moeen Ali kept them in the hunt, so much, that there were some worried Indian faces on the field. The fifth-wicket partnership had crossed 100. That was when Sharma came back with his second act, breaking the spine of the opposition batting order with some chin music.
Ali had no time to react and gloved the ball to the waiting hands of Cheteshwar Pujara at forward short-leg while taking evasive action. Dhoni had spread out his field and Sharma kept persisting with the short ball, with devastating effect. Prior, Stokes and a well-set Root were all dismissed trying to club the ball over the deep mid-wicket/square leg boundary. Stuart Broad was Sharma’s seventh victim, caught down the leg side by Dhoni. Not long after, India wrapped up the win to go 1-0 up in the series.
“Obviously there was pressure on us on the last day,” Sharma reflected on his memorable spell. “Moeen Ali and Root were playing bell so Mahi bhai asked me to start bowling short as nothing was happening. He told me to bowl short till we take the new ball.”
The Delhi pacer added: “Just before lunch Moeen Ali was dismissed. While we were going in for lunch Mahi bhai told me that he will make me bowl in short spells and that I had to bowl short.
“I told him that now he should just let me bowl till the end of the match. After I bowled four overs on the trot, Mahi bhai asked me to take rest but I told him that there was fuel in the car... let it run.”
Surely, this win will go down as one of Dhoni’s finest moments as India captain, and Sharma, as a pacer at the top level. However, the win didn’t give India the momentum they were looking for on the tour and were comfortably outplayed in the three Tests that followed.
Watch Ishant Sharma bowl his match-winning spell at Lord’s here: