India's Ishant Sharma bowls on Day 1 of the first cricket test match between India and England, at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.(PTI)
India's Ishant Sharma bowls on Day 1 of the first cricket test match between India and England, at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.(PTI)

Ishant Sharma all vintage class in battle with Joe Root

  • The fast bowler, recalled for his 98th Test after injury forced him out of the Australia tour, was the only one to trouble England’s master batsman.
PUBLISHED ON FEB 06, 2021 10:23 PM IST

Through his brilliant double hundred, there was one Indian bowler Joe Root didn’t master, in the first Test at Chennai. Whether at the start of his innings or when past 100, every time Ishant Sharma came on to bowl, the England skipper looked tentative.

Middling everything from the rest of the bowlers, against Sharma there were inside and outside edges that fell short of the slips, and balls that thudded into Root’s pads. The slowness of the MA Chidambaram Stadium wicket meant the batsman got that little extra time to adjust and keep the crafty Indian pacer at bay, but there was no taking a chance against Sharma. Root wisely played out the pacer.

On another tough and long day for the India bowlers, Sharma’s display with the ball stood out. He was the most economical, conceding 1.93 runs per over (27-7-52-2). With a dramatic double blow in his 24th over, Sharma moved to within one scalp of completing 300 wickets, in his 98th Test.

Once Root departed, there were late rewards for Sharma. Even with the soft, old ball, without the use of saliva to shine for reverse swing, Sharma made the ball talk in his final spell after Virat Kohli brought him on late on Day 2. In the 170th over of the innings, the dangerous Jos Buttler was cleaned up shouldering arms with an incoming ball. Off the next delivery, Sharma hit a superb length just outside off and got it to nip back to send Jofra Archer's off-stump cartwheeling.

Buttler was set on 30 and Archer is a dangerous hitter. The wickets helped peg back England’s plans of an assault in the final session in their bid to push the total past 600.

“They were crucial wickets (Buttler and Archer), it lifts the team. If we wouldn’t have got those two wickets we would have been quite behind in the game as a specialist batsman (Buttler) would still have been at the crease. Now, two tailenders are the crease,” said left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem about Sharma’s double blow.

ROOT VS SHARMA

On Day 1, Root first faced Sharma during his second spell. In an excellent seventh over to Root, there was an appeal for leg before; in his next over, Root’s edge fell short of slip fielder, Rohit Sharma. The third ball after tea, the pacer again induced a healthy edge but it dropped short off ’keeper Rishabh Pant. After Day 1, the lanky pacer's figures were a miserly 15-3-27-0.

The keen tussle between the stalwarts continued on the second morning too. Batting well past his hundred and having played out the opening spell from Jasprit Bumrah and R Ashwin, Root was still not middling it when Sharma came on. There was a good shout for leg before in Sharma’s first over of the day and an inside edge off the first ball of his next over. Root was then rapped on the pads as he missed a flick in Sharma’s third over of the morning.

IMPORTANT show

It was an important performance for the 32-year-old pacer coming into the team after a long gap. His last Test was in February 2020, in New Zealand, also the last first-class game he had played.

It is never easy to leave out a player who had won you the previous Test. The India captain faced that tough selection call for Chennai while picking his pace bowling combination. Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur had bowled their hearts out in the Brisbane win last month. But, with his experience of 97 Tests, Sharma would have been a straight-forward selection. The only doubt was that he had hardly played cricket for the last year, first due to the lockdown and an injury picked up early in the Indian Premier League. The rehab work took longer and the entire Australia series was missed. His only match practice was playing for Delhi in the Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament.

It was natural if Sharma had felt the pressure of showing his young teammates why their captain preferred his experience over their form. To his credit, he has been superb throughout, maintaining immaculate, probing lengths.

The only time Sharma allowed frustration to get the better of him was in the one over to Ben Stokes in his opening spell on Saturday, when he went around the wicket and strived for extra pace. With the ball coming nicely on to the bat, Stokes picked him up for two fours in two balls, to move from 18 to 26, as the extra shoulder put into the delivery killed the seam movement.

Overall, it was a fine lesson for the young pacers in the squad on how to adjust to a lifeless track.

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