Ishant Sharma is perhaps in the best stage of his career. He came in as early as 2007, coincidentally against Bangladesh. In his second Test, against Pakistan in Bengaluru, the lanky fast bowler had picked up a five-for.
Twelve years and 94 Tests later, he is still breathing fire. He wants to keep evolving by learning new variations. After becoming the first Indian bowler to claim a five-for with the pink ball, he said, “I am the same person (laughs). I am enjoying my cricket right now. Earlier, I used to take in a lot of performance pressure. I used to only think about getting wickets. A lot would go inside my head. That doesn’t happen now; obviously, there is experience.
“It is better to look at the conditions and adjust your length fast. If you do that, it is easier to perform.”
Describing the pink ball behaviour, Ishant added, “It was very different in the beginning. When we started bowling normal length, it was not swinging much. Later, we realised the right length to get some movement. We, the fast bowlers, communicated and that’s when we started getting wickets.”
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His colleagues, Umesh Yadav (3/29) and Mohammed Shami (2/36), backed him in full hilt.
“The pitch was fine. When we were at the nets, we played on the same wicket. We expected this wicket,” he said.
In recent years, most of Ishant’s top performances have been on overseas tours; the five-wicket haul against the West Indies in North Sound and the four-for against Australia in Perth stand out.
Since the Indore Test, Ishant is working on a variation where the ball either keeps straight after pitching or nips in. It has been lethal against the left-handers. That’s how he got the wicket of Shadman Islam in that fixture; today, a similar kind of delivery fetched him the wicket of Imrul Kayes.
“In the last two years, we have been doing well. I was trying to continue in that form and mindset, like it is on overseas tours. If I can pick wickets overseas, why not India? Normally, I would bowl out-swingers to left-handers, so I needed to add variety as that is the key to improvement. It also depends how confident you are to bowl that. The batsman thinks the ball will go out but it won’t,” he said.
Ishant did not have any problem sighting the pink ball. “The visibility was fine as long as we bowled. When we bowl at night, dew could be factor. The batsmen were saying the dew is there but the odd ball is going. It is not moving consistently but more wickets are likely to fall at night.”
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The healthy competition in the Indian side keeps Ishant going. Along with Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the team flaunts a dangerous pace pack.
“The important thing is we have a healthy competition. If that wasn’t there, then this performance wouldn’t have happened. If your position is not challenged, you can’t bring out this kind of a performance. Somebody may have to sit out but these things keep happening if the team is doing well.
“The best example is Hanuma Vihari who scored well in West Indies but is now sitting out as we wanted to field five bowlers,” Ishant explained.
Shami earned a call-up to the T20I side for the series against the West Indies. Ishant feels “sad at times” that he isn’t part of the limited-overs squad but in the long run, the hunger to play gets the better of all the worries. “I am in that stage of life where I have stopped worrying about these things. I am 31 and if I keep thinking about which format my name is in [or not], I won’t be able to improve.I just want to play even if it is Ranji Trophy.”
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