If you go through India’s scorecard of the victorious second Test against Sri Lanka at the P Sara Oval, Colombo, you wouldn’t have to scratch your head to know who was the main man with the ball behind the win. Obviously, it was due to some great bowling from the spin duo of off-spinner R Ashwin and leg-spinner Amit Mishra.
What nearly went unnoticed was fast bowler Ishant Sharma’s efforts and disciplined bowling that kept things tight. His figures of 2/68 and 1/41 may not be flattering enough, but he has started to show signs of improvement and maturity.
Even Virat Kohli has vouched for it. “I’m more pleased with the bowlers taking 20 wickets rather than guys getting hundreds. If you look at Ishant Sharma, he was helping to take wickets by creating pressure. I think that’s the understanding they are creating amongst themselves,” he said after the game.
Breaking into the international scene in 2007 as a tall fast bowler with good pace and ability to get bounce off length on any wicket, Sharma has been far from impressive in his eight-year career. He has delivered only in patches. His memorable performances in 68 Tests can be counted on finger tips. His fiery spell in Perth in 2008 and the match-winning seven wickets against England at Lord’s in 2014 are a few examples of his potential.
In the current series, however, Sharma has begun to show signs of maturity and improvement. From being erratic to the keeping it tight with good line and length, Sharma has been effective. Considering that he doesn’t have variation or the ability to reverse swing, he has stuck to the basics and this is finally bearing fruits for him and the team.
Sample this. Sharma invited half-centurion Lahiru Thirimanne (62) to drive by bowling up constantly before inducing him to edge to the wicket-keeper. Sharma followed it up with a well-directed bouncer that hit Dinesh Chandimal on the head. Low on confidence, Chandimal nicked one to the slip cordon for just 11.
After the third day’s play, Mishra credited Sharma for Lanka’s fall in the first innings. “The way Ishant bowled with the new ball was important on a slow track. His effort in the heat, that spell set the game up for us,” Mishra had said.
Former India fast bowler and fast-bowling coach TA Sekar believed Sharma has improved but needed to pick wickets. “Basically, he is bowling a good line and length. There is an increase in speed from what he used to bowl earlier. After starting (his career) by bowling 145 kmph, he reduced in pace. But now he has gained speed and touching 140,” he said.
“He is bowling better than what he used to, which is a great improvement. He has to start taking wickets, though. It is the spinners who got the wickets – 14 out of 20 while the rest were shared,” Sekar added.
Sekar said Sharma should start taking wickets with the new ball. “He is expect to give breakthroughs in the first spell with the new ball. Ishant has played a lot of Test matches but doesn’t have a great record. He lacks variation like what Zaheer Khan had and this is something that he has to start working on,” Sekar said.
Former India seamer Chetan Sharma, too, felt that Ishant has matured. “Ishant is bowling well. I was in Sri Lanka and I spoke to him for half-an-hour. He sounded a very mature fast bowler. There used to be shy bowlers who used to sneak past their seniors in order to avoid a talk with them, but not Ishant, who comes and speaks to you. And that tells you about his confidence,” Sharma told PTI.
“He understands what he is doing. And, he has the backing of a lot of talented youngsters like Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and (Mohammed) Shami. I don’t think there is a problem in the pace department. If a pacer can pick up 2-3 wickets on the sub-continent tracks, then I believe he has done his job,” Sharma added.