He has a towering presence, chest-out swagger, mop-like hair that rest on his shoulders, wears an unshaven look and a neck crowded by jewellery. Ishant Sharma has the look but not the numbers to intimidate batsmen.
On most days of his seven year-long international career, the brute of a man has looked like a ‘little boy lost’. However, during a seven over spell in the second session on Day 3, Sharma looked fearsome and terrorised the England middle-order.
For the second successive day, all the drama was squeezed into the post-lunch session. It was the period that saw lethal spells, a bizarre dismissal, DRS debates and a dodgy decision too. With every incident on the field received by louds moans, cheers and jeers from the locals in the stands, the afternoon action was the most engrossing and, probably, series determining too.
With Indian bowlers making better use of the conditions than the locals, one of which is Nottingham home boy Stuart Broad, six wickets fell in the middle session.
The yawning prospect of watching a drab draw unfold on a dead track was changed by an inspired Sharma. His spell of 7-1-29-3 brought the Indian bowlers and swing back in the game. Wednesday’s post-lunch heroes — Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4/61) and Mohammed Shami (2/98) — would follow up Sharma’s strike as England finished at 352 for 9, still trailing by 105 runs.
And had it not been for Joe Root’s ‘shaky initially but sure later’ unbeaten 78, England would be dealing with follow-on fears. With James Anderson (23) sticking with Root, India had slightly lost the afternoon advantage.
Change of ball
The whodunit of this miraculous mid-session turnaround can be solved by revisiting the 54th over, at the end of which the umpires agreed to India’s request for a ball change.
Six overs before that Sharma had got his team the all-important breakthrough by getting Sam Robson (59) with a ball that nipped back a bit. But with the new ‘old’ ball, it was a whole new game. Cricket balls, it is understood, have a mind of their own. They swing and bounce differently. The one that India got in the 54th over was reverse swinging and, for the first time in the game, reaching Dhoni’s gloves.
Sharma pounced on the opportunity and so did Dhoni. The tall pacer first got Gary Ballance with a ball that swung and straightened. The skipper ended left-arm spinner Ravinder Jaejda’s spell to throw the ball to the team’s best ‘swing’ exponent Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
For the next 40 or so overs, bowlers would run in hiding the ball in their hand, not showing the batsmen which was the shiny side and keeping them guessing about the trajectory.
Though, it happens to be a thankless, and in some cases even a clandestine job on a cricket field, Virat Kohli’s contribution as polisher need an honourable mention. The long, bright red patches on the back of his pants gave ample evidence about Kohli diligently maintaining the ball – keeping one side shining and the other dry.
All evening he would give the ball the extra rub and then throw it to Sharma who would bowl a probing line and move the ball late.
Both Root and Ian Bell were tested with deliveries that darted towards the ribs. The short-leg was in place to make them edgy.
These balls were followed by the one that was pitched outside off and went straight. With the ball moving in late, both Root and Bell couldn’t afford to leave. They would reach out and this gave those behind the stumps hope.
Bell attempted to hit out of trouble to end India’s domination. After hitting three fours off a Bhuvneshwar over, he tried to hit a Sharma delivery that was short and outside the off-stump. Done in by the extra bounce, he was caught behind.
The next batsman, Moeen Ali, didn’t fall because of extra swing, but lack of bounce as he gloved a short one from Shami to the slips.
Matt Prior got a dubious call and that resulted in Bhuvneshwar getting his first wicket of the game. He followed up with three more to finish with 4/61.
But without doubt the day belonged to the mean-looking man with the mane who took the game by the scruff of the neck and shook off the boredom at Trent Bridge. But by the end of the evening with England’s last pair putting on 54 runs, Sharma walking back to the pavilion had started to look like a little boy lost.