If it had not been for Virender Sehwag’s intervention, Ishant Sharma may just have missed the opportunity to get the crucial wicket of Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, which turned the third Test in India’s favour on Saturday.
Perhaps not wanting to tire the youngster, Anil Kumble was all set to take off Ishant from the attack when the stump microphones picked up an interesting conversation that the Indian skipper had with Sehwag.
The opener, who was not in action in the first two Tests, walked up to Kumble and advised him to persist with Ishant for an extra over as Ponting was having a torrid time facing the 19-year-old pacer.
“Meri baat maano… Ponting strike par hai aur ladka (Ishant) rhythm mein hai (Ponting is on the strike and the boy is in rhythm),” were Sehwag’s words of wisdom to Kumble.
The Indian skipper paid heed and asked Ishant, “Ek aur karega? (Would you bowl another over?).”
Ishant replied, “Haan Karoonga (Yes I will)” and went on to pay back the faith by getting Ponting caught behind of the very first ball of that extra over.
Later Sehwag said he advised Kumble to persist with Ishant because as Delhi captain he knew that the youngster was capable of bowling long spells.
“As Delhi captain, I knew he could bowl a longer spell and that’s why I asked Anil to continue with him,” he said.
Ishant Sharma says his nine-over spell on the fourth morning of the Perth Test, one where he dismissed his “favourite batsman” Ricky Ponting, was undoubtedly his best in all forms of the game. He was happy that Anil Kumble had faith in him and said it was his “rhythm” which earned him the reward.
“It’s a great feeling to get a great batsman like Ricky Ponting twice in the match,” he said a day after India’s historic 72-run win. “I didn’t change my bowling much from what I do in domestic cricket but I can’t remember a spell like this. It’s the best I’ve bowled in my career. It’s not because of Ponting but more to do with rhythm. We have a plan against all batsmen and just try and stick to it.”
It was only the second time in Ponting’s Test career that he had been dismissed by the same bowler-fielder combination, after the Sri Lankan pair of Chaminda Vaas and Romesh Kaluwitharana had undone him in the Adelaide Test of 1996. Ishant induced an edge off Ponting in the first innings, for Rahul Dravid to take a sharp catch at third slip, before foxing him with a straighter one in the second, an edge which Dravid lapped up at first slip.
Both Kumble and Venkatesh Prasad, India’s bowling coach, likened Ishant to a young Javagal Srinath. “He’s tall and wiry,” said Prasad, Srinath’s new-ball partner for both his state and country. “He hits a similar length and has the ball that jags back. He can generate some good pace as well.”
Prasad said he had not seen such a fine spell of bowling in a “long, long time. Ishant is the youngest but he bowled a very mature spell.” It was a period when he had Ponting in knots and even struck him on the hip and stomach. “It’s a god-gifted ability,” Ishant replied when asked about the darting deliveries that regularly thudded into Ponting. “I normally bowl inswingers and the wind here helped me to get more swing.” Would he have an edge over Ponting in the final Test in Adelaide? “I don’t know what he’s thinking but my job is to bowl well. I’m not thinking about his plan but mine.”
Ishant admitted it can get frustrating when he doesn’t get rewarded for bowling good spells. Despite his impressive showing in Sydney and Perth, he has only three Test wickets to show on this tour so far. “Sometimes you feel bad but I know if I’m bowling well things will happen,” he said matter-of-factly. “As long as I put in the effort, the rewards will come at some point.”
Meanwhile the Indian team had a dinner planned at the Hyatt on Sunday. The players spent the day with their families, with most heading out to get a taste of the city. A few members of the side commented on how the celebrations were not as wild as the ones in their previous wins abroad but attributed that to the team getting used to winning on foreign soil. Also, most were also thinking of the series-decider in Adelaide and wanted to have a “big celebration” if they win there.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo