A day before the second Test at the P Sara Oval, as the rest of the players hit the batting nets, Ishant Sharma was bowling on a practice strip inside the ground. The focus was a lot on his landing foot. He had bowled nine no-balls in the first Test in Galle and had also over-stepped nine times in the warm-up game.
However, there has been little to worry about his bowling as he has been very consistent in this series. He has only five wickets from the first two Tests, but his incisive bowling to dry up runs has played a big role in the domination by Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra.
After struggling during the Test series in Australia and then missing the World Cup due to knee problems, he landed in Sri Lanka ready. He took five wickets in the warm-up game. The improvement is obvious. He looks stronger, has slightly shortened his run-up but looks far more balanced in his delivery stride and has consistently bowled at good pace.
His disciplined opening spell in Galle set things rolling. He pitched it up on the first morning, giving nothing to the batsmen, who then succumbed to Ashwin and Mishra, dismissed for 183.
Sharma didn’t ease up in Colombo. In three sessions in the Sri Lankan first innings, the bowlers held scoring on a leash. The host batsmen managed only 75 between tea and stumps, usually a high-scoring phase, on Day 2. They conceded only 84 runs on the third morning, though Angelo Mathews was well-set and Sri Lanka didn’t lose a wicket. That pressure told as they lost four wickets for 75 runs in the next session. And Sri Lanka cracked.
Sharma provided crucial breakthroughs. His off-stump line, reverse swing and use of the short delivery in the second innings all worked nicely.
It promises a fresh phase for him. A week from turning 27, he has already played 64 Tests, but is still eight short of 200 wickets.
Skipper Virat Kohli praised Sharma and the bowlers’ teamwork. "The (bowling) session we had in the first innings when we squeezed them was one of the best I have been part of with this team."
"People are not getting desperate for wickets. If you look at Ishant today (Monday), in the second spell he gave just five runs in four overs. He was in no rush. He was just helping Ashwin by bowling those maidens from the other end. That’s the understanding they are creating amongst themselves."