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First Test: Ishant stands tall, bends it like old times

cricket Updated: Dec 20, 2013 00:51 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

When Ishant Sharma was hammered for 30 runs in one over in an ODI at home against Australia in October, Twitter went viral hurling abuses and throwing barbs with some even preparing his retirement plans. Ishant took all of that in his stride, got back to domestic cricket, picked a few wickets at Delhi’s seaming Roshanara Club ground and got his confidence back.

Despite all these efforts, his return to the India side for South Africa was met with a few raised eyebrows. But those who selected him knew he had two weapons that could prove effective in South Africa. One was the disconcerting bounce he can extract from good length thanks to his height. Vindicating that, he greeted Hashim Amla with a bouncer that shook him first delivery and forced him into a shaky start, unusual for the normally fluent batsman.

Two in two
The other was the reverse swing that eventually did Amla and Jacques Kallis in, off successive deliveries no less. As Amla turned around to look at his shattered stumps, it was clear it wasn’t just a lapse in concentration. It was the reverse swing that had caught him by surprise.

Ahead of the second ODI at Durban, Dale Steyn’s support for his Sunrisers Hyderabad teammate’s inclusion looked a bit surprising. But he was drafted in, and although he didn’t set Kingsmead on fire, his four for 40 at Centurion gave his career a lifeline. “I made mistakes but I have learnt from it,” he said after that game and was ready and willing to go on. At the Wanderers, MS Dhoni also had an important decision to make, leaving out Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who lacks pace but has got him early breakthroughs.

No home advantage
At the Wanderers, Steyn and Co had to stick to the virtues of line and length, natural swing and movement off the pitch as they failed to get any reverse swing. But the Indian pacers sprang to life around the 38th over as the older ball began reversing.

It is essentially a sub-continent art but there were doubts whether India would be able to do it with the Kookaburra ball, which doesn’t do much once it loses the shine. But once Ishant struck, both Zaheer and Mohammed Shami also got into the act, and but for two dropped catches India might well have bowled out the hosts.

That he was focused was clear from the fact that Ishant was measuring his run-up on the wicket adjacent to the playing turf early on Thursday. A few seconds later, he was running in, bowling at the stumps and a member of the team staff helping him with his line and length. Ishant had done the same routine for three days leading up to his performance.

Finally, ‘Lamboo’ stands tall once again.