Sitting in the New Zealand dressing room, a padded-up Tom Latham looked like a lamb at the slaughter when he was caught on the camera doing a bit of anxious leg-shaking. The 21-year-old was making his Test debut on Friday, filling in for Ross Taylor who is away on a paternity leave. But that was not what was making Latham a bundle of nerves. Just then the screen cut to what was perhaps the primary cause of his concern. It flashed Ishant Sharma’s face as he steamed in to bowl at Peter Fulton.
Let’s pause here, and just consider Ishant Sharma’s appearance when he runs in. The lanky 6’5’’ frame, the unruly hair all over the place, the fiery eyes exuding aggression, the arrow-like goatee, which in fact kind of points towards his very pointy Adam’s apple. Suffice to say, it’s a scary sight.
For almost two-and-a-half years, however, between July 2011 to December 2013, his appearance was the only menacing thing about his bowling. In that period, that 15-odd-stride run-up would mostly degenerate into rather harmless bowling, either too short or too full to be threatening. During this time, he played 17 Test matches and took 32 wickets, at an average of 58.18. It will be an unfair comparison, but just to give some perspective: Vernon Philander took all of his 105 wickets in a roughly overlapping period, having played just three more Tests.
The long rope finally snapped last year and Ishant was dropped from the Test team for the West Indies series. He came back with a bang in South Africa, struggled again in the ODIs against New Zealand but produced nine wickets at the Eden Park Test last week, only to be dismissed as lucky. He was then dropped from the Asia Cup ODI team and fetched a rather underwhelming Rs 2.6 crore (as compared to a few of his peers) at the IPL auction in the lead up to the Wellington Test.
He had a massive point to prove.
Now, let’s go back and play again from where we had paused. Watch his menacing run-up, watch him hop and uncoil. Watch the fuller length ball land and nip back. The tentative Fulton prod. The ball rapping the pad. The finger going up. Watch, in short, Ishant at his formidable best.
Rise and shine
Fulton was his second wicket on Friday morning. Ishant was required to bowl rather early after Dhoni, having won the toss and put New Zealand in, saw his new-ball bowlers Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Shami threatening to squander the advantage.
Ishant replaced Shami in the 8th over, and almost immediately continued…