Amit Mishra has played a third of his 23 ODIs at The Harare Sports Club and the Queens Park Club in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. He made his Twenty20 International debut in Zimbabwe.
The last two Indian teams to visit Zimbabwe have been largely second string sides. Some of the seniors missed the series because of injuries, while some were rested. Tours to the African nation have increasingly become an opportunity for fringe players or those who are not the captain’s first choice in a playing eleven. Mishra has been part of both these squads.
On the first occasion, in the tri-nation series that also involved Sri Lanka in 2010, Mishra played three games and picked up one wicket. His figures were 1 for 47, 0 for 40 and 0 for 56. He didn’t play another game till a year later.
He next played ODIs for India in the West Indies, a year later. Again this was not a full-strength side. He picked up 11 wickets in five games at an average of 18.09. The improved figures should have given him the right to have an extended run in ODIs. But it was not to be as Mishra played his next ODI over two years later.
Mishra would have felt dejected. No matter how he performed on the field, he would have to wait and wait some more for his next break.
After the game at Kingston, he next played an ODI 25 months later. It was at Harare. Mishra had just picked up a bagful of wickets in the Indian Premier League and he had developed greater control over his googly. In Zimbabwe he took 18 wickets in five ODIs.
Recognition came when he won two man of the match awards in Zimbabwe. Mishra attributed his success against Zimbabwe last year to learning to vary his pace instead of being one dimensional in his speed. When he bowls the googly, which he did with success against Zimbabwe, he claims to be in greater control of the delivery after working on it with Anil Kumble.
On Friday skipper MS Dhoni put his faith in Mishra and fielded three spinners against Pakistan. The team management seemed to have faith in Mishra only when India played against the lower-ranked sides earlier (he had never played a match against Pakistan before the Asia Cup earlier this month).
Mishra didn’t let Dhoni down. He bowled four overs and gave away just 22 runs and picked up two wickets. The first of those was a beauty of a leg-break that foxed opener Ahmed Shehzad, who missed the line completely after charging down the track. Dhoni only had to knock off the bails. This was Mishra’s first T20I in nearly four years.
Ravichandran Ashwin had been asked to open the attack against Pakistan and he did a good job of it by coming around the wicket, cramping the batsmen for room. Mishra and Jadeja were brought on after the Powerplay overs. Jadeja was accurate and nagging with his line and length, Mishra used flight and turn to make the Pakistan batsmen second guess.
“I have a worked a lot on my fitness. I do not think I am slow. I have worked on my variations, have tried to understand the game a bit more. That is helping me. There is no doubt that the more variations you have, the more it helps in this format. I have increased my variations and have worked on my speed a lot as well. That is helping me,” Mishra said after winning the match of the match award against Pakistan.
Just 23 ODI matches in 11 years tells of a start-stop career. His Test appearances have also been sporadic. Thirteen matches in about six years. A commonality of Mishra’s career is that his breaks have come when others have not been able to play for various reasons. He made his Test debut against Australia in Mohali when Kumble was injured in what was to be his swansong series. Yet, since then he has not been able to hold on to his place and has played only 13 Tests. “I always think positive, I am really happy I am here and performing. Whole team is supporting me, every time coaches come to me and they say your time will come. Just wait for your time,” Mishra added.
He may be benched again since Jadeja and Ashwin remain the first choice spinners. But after Friday, he won’t be known only for his performances against Zimbabwe.