When Ishant Sharma shook his unruly mane free from the confines of his panama hat and marked the top of his run-up,Australia were a shaky 29 for two in reply to Indias 191. The ball that he rubbed against his trouser leg was only seven overs old. Up at the other end was Ricky Ponting.
Ishant Sharma and Ricky Ponting; names that fit snugly in the same sentence. Everyone remembers that spell,that dismissal. Ishant truly arrived that day,and Ponting,some say,has never been the same batsman since.
Now,Ishant began with a loosener outside off stump. Ponting let it pass. The next ball was on Pontings pads. The ball took a thin edge as the batsman tried to flick and went just wide of a sprawling MS Dhoni. The batsmen ran one; the umpire signalled leg byes.
It wasnt the last time Ishant would stray onto the pads over the course of his six-over spell on Day One at the SCG,as Ponting and Michael Clarke worked him off leg-and-middle for two fours,two doubles and a single. Ishant erred not just in line,providing short balls for Clarke and Ed Cowan to crunch to the point fence.
Having put just 191,India would have liked all their bowlers to up their efforts on a wicket that still had something for the new ball. Unfortunately,two of their fast men sprayed it all over. Ishant went for 30 in his six overs. Umesh Yadav went for 42 in eight.
It was pretty dispiriting for the Indians,considering how well Zaheer Khan had bowled to keep them well and truly in the game. In his first over,he drew David Warner forward and got him to edge one to second slip. VVS Laxman juggled it,but Sachin Tendulkar reacted quickly to stretch to his left from first slip and grab hold of it. In almost identical fashion,Zaheer sent back Shaun Marsh,except it was Laxman himself who clung on on the second attempt.
Not long after,Zaheer made it 37 for three and three out of three left-handers from Australias top order,the in-ducker trapping Ed Cowan in front of off stump. With Australia under that much pressure,the least Ishant and Umesh could have done was to bowl tightly in support of Zaheer.
Instead,they made it easy for two experienced batsmen to play their way out of trouble. Umesh is 24,and in only his fourth Test. Ishant,a year younger,is in his 43rd. Only one of them can still expect leniency for being young and inexperienced. At the end of the days play,coach Duncan Fletcher said Indias attack was potentially among the best in the world. Once we get Umesh going and Ishant firing,with the experience of Zak there (and) we have got some very very good spinners. Its a complete package.
Theoretically,this might be true. But getting Ishant to fire has been an often frustrating task. In his 43rd Test,he has 130 wickets at 36.20. After 43 Tests,Dale Steyn had 217 wickets.
It might be a harsh comparison,but with the gifts he possesses,Ishant must aspire to be counted among the best in the world. At the MCG,he crossed 150kph more than once,and beat the bat repeatedly. No batsman in the world is comfortable facing that sort of speed,especially when it is allied to Ishants height,his angle and his ability to get the odd ball to jag away. And yet,he has off days like this one. He only has to look to the Australian attack to see what he must sort out. James Pattinson never wavers from that off stump line,and never drops short unless hes looking for the bouncer. He is 21,and is in his fourth Test.