It’s interesting — and instructive of their contrasting personalities — to watch how Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah respond to fluffed catches. On Sunday, Virat Kohli spilled a Shimron Hetmyer sitter at second slip off Bumrah. Later, Hanuma Vihari could not cling on to a relatively tougher one at backward square-leg off Jason Holder. Ishant cringed and admonished Vihari. Bumrah, on the other hand, broke into a smile and waved at Kohli.
It’s unlikely Ishant would have reacted the way he did if it were Kohli who had dropped that catch off his bowling. Because, after all, it’s Kohli. No one shouts at him. But, at the same time, you can’t imagine Ishant reacting like Bumrah. You almost can picture him muttering something under his breath on his way back to the marker.
Bumrah is someone who goes to the extent of consoling the erring fielder. In the IPL final this year, he did that to wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock after the latter had dropped a crucial catch in the dying stages of the match.
It’s not to suggest that Bumrah is more composed and Ishant is a gnarling veteran. It’s just the way they are — two bowlers from different parts of the country, from different cultures, and at different stages of their careers. Bumrah is in his second year; Ishant in his 12th. The former is one shy of completing a dozen Tests; Ishant is a battle-hardened veteran, nine short of his 100th. Their bowling styles are as contrasting as their personalities, but it’s the antithesis that makes them compelling to watch together. Bumrah is the ice to Ishant’s fire. And though the scorecard will tell you the former nabbed five and the latter three, it was as fiery as Ishant had bowled in recent times. In fact, he bowled better in the second outing than the first, sharper and nippier. If the first innings was all sweat and hard work, this was an exhibition of supreme craftsmanship.
‘Luckless Ishant’. It’s a word that has morphed into an epithet of sorts. Maybe, that’s the reason he gets easily agitated when fielders grass catches off his bowling. No bowler likes that, just that some take it in their stride. On Sunday, he was really unlucky to not have added more wickets to the analysis. For, he was as destructive as Bumrah, viciously bending the ball into the right-handed batsmen, making it hold off the seam, squaring them up, cutting them into halves, harnessing every bit of assistance from the surface, and dismantling the batsmen’s technique as much as their minds. He was raw hostility crunched into a six-foot-four frame, and when he’s relentlessly hostile, he becomes a scary proposition to face.
If in the first innings, he was bowling with the breeze flowing across him, helping him procure the outswing, here he was bowling with it, which exaggerated the angle of the inswingers. The massive inswing accounted for the debutant Shamarh Brook, who was beaten for both pace and movement. Later, a similar delivery had Shai Hope in strife, though the height and angle saved him on that occasion. If the inswing was difficult to negotiate for the right-handers, to the left-handers he was diabolical. He made the talented Shimron Hetmyer look like a novice, forcing him to stab repeatedly in vain outside the off-stump before eventually dismissing him.
As he has been for a while, Ishant was relentless and accurate, landing the ball on a handkerchief. Whereas in the past he would have easily given up if a few deliveries missed the edge or the fielder dropped a catch, the improved Ishant is unflagging in his spirit, like a true leader of the pack. It’s a crown that he wears gracefully, in that he’s selfless in conceding the limelight to Bumrah and Shami. He doesn’t get hurt when occasionally Shami takes the new ball, or when he’s tasked to perform the stock-bowler duties.
He’s all ears to suggestions, even it’s coming from someone as young as Rishabh Pant or inexperienced as Hanuma Vihari. There’s an absence of ego that fast bowlers are notorious for — and it has come to that stage when you can feel that he has ripened into a reliable fast bowler. It might have taken him a while, longer than most had expected, but he’s still only 30, would turn 31 this year, and you’d expect his legs to clock more miles at this level.
The rise of Bumrah has taken a lot of attention away from him, but he has been quietly chipping away with the wickets. It might be that Bumrah was the first Indian fast bowler to take five-fors in his first four away tours, but in the same span, Ishant too had 5/86 in Centurion, 6/97 in Birmingham, 5/86 in Perth and 5/43 in North Sound. He too has been as indispensable a weapon as Bumrah. Since the start of 2018, he has bargained 49 wickets at 19.75 in 12 matches, a reason Kohli calls him the banker, a steady force, who puts in steady performances even on his off-days and great performances on his good days. Even if he gets agitated when fielders spill catches.