The horizontal bat shot against the rising ball is the most unpredictable stroke in cricket. The batsmen are never in control of it. To negotiate it safely, you either sway out of the way or duck underneath.
In the Lord’s Test, the England batsmen seemed to have forgotten this important lesson and paid the price. It proved to be India’s surprise weapon when the going got tough on the final day of the dramatic second Test.
Ishant Sharma employed it to telling effect, using his height to generate steeply bounce. All five of his wickets on the fifth afternoon were off the short ball. It was a master plan by Dhoni and executed to perfection by Sharma, who reaped the rewards for a career-best haul of seven for 74.
Read: Ishant's 7 for 74 -A spell that was worth the wait
With the India team for a long time now, Sharma is finally starting to live up to his role as the spearhead. He was outstanding in New Zealand in the Tests and continued his impressive bowling at Trent Bridge. But it is the Lord’s spell that he will cherish the most.
He had burst on to the international scene with an incisive spell to dismiss Ricky Ponting at Perth in 2008, playing a crucial role in that famous win. This victory is right up there with Perth and Sharma will cherish it as much. In Australia then, it was with in-swinging deliveries that he had done the damage. Here he used his height, proof of his improving and increasing arsenal.
Read: India's Test record at Lord's
On Monday morning, when Joe Root and Moeen Ali were together, it had become anybody’s game. Interestingly, Sharma was reluctant to try the short stuff and it was the wicket of Ali that gave him the confidence to go all out with the strategy.
“To start with, it was a bit difficult to convince him to bowl the short balls. So, I just told him and turned around and set the field so that he was forced to bowl short,” skipper M S Dhoni revealed.
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“It worked, and once he got Moeen’s wicket, he was eager enough to try that line for a consistent period of time. He works really hard on his fitness and on his bowling. He doesn’t shy away from bowling long spells. Whenever you ask him to bowl, and whatever the situation, he gives 100 per cent. There is no reason why he shouldn’t test this line because he has the height, so he can exploit the bounce and put pressure on batsmen.”
Read: It was a memorable win, we learnt from 2011 tour, says Dhoni
Ali had looked untroubled in the morning session, but proved to be a sitting duck against a short ball. It opened the floodgates and Sharma scythed through the lower order.