In a Test career going back to 2007, it has often been tough to predict which Ishant Sharma would turn up. The pacer who can bowl those unplayable deliveries and spells, or the one who can simply let his bowling dissipate. In Sri Lanka, a fitter and consistent Sharma is making an impact, raising hopes it could be the start of a new phase after the latest injury which forced him to miss the World Cup.
But being Sharma is an abiding theme. On Sunday, at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground, there was friendly banter from Sri Lanka fans.
"Ishant, please bowl a no-ball", they pleaded as he fielded on the boundary. He obliged them six times, but he also grabbed five wickets to seal a useful lead.
(For scores and statistics on the third Test, click here)
Work in progress
Playing in his 65th Test, Ishant is still three short of the 200-wicket mark. Despite his success in Sri Lanka, the genial Delhi paceman is still a work in progress — he has bowled 28 no-balls on the tour.
He can blow hot and cold on the pitch. He clashed with Rangana Herath and Kusal Perera, but showed there was no malice, walking up to the returning Dhammika Prasad — an Ishant snorter struck his left hand and forced him to retire hurt — to enquire if he was fine.
His media interactions can be funny and philosophical. So, how challenging was it to bowl even on a seaming pitch? "If you are asking (about) challenging, we are pretty happy after getting (a) green wicket. What we need to do is bowl in good areas, keep believing in yourself that somehow you will take wickets."
A shortened run-up has helped, but no-balls a concern? "Maybe I am too strong now!" he grinned.
"The way I am running (in), I am pretty happy, the way I am releasing the ball, all these things. Even I have been thinking about no-balls for quite a long time, I need to work on that."
Was there a plan when Kushal Perera attacked? "To be honest, he had nothing to lose. He was hitting the ball even when we were hitting the length. You can’t really do anything about that. The way he got out, you can see he was still slogging the ball…"
How can one handle such situations? "What you need to do is set a field, set a plan and bowl according to that plan so the captain doesn’t look like a fool in the ground. If you set a plan (for the tail-enders), even if you are bowling bouncers, keep on bowling bouncers. If you are tired, just tell the captain that you are tired, you can’t bowl anymore. You need to keep things very simple so it will be easy for the captain as well."