Written by Niharika Raina
That “Faulkner over”. In an interview with this newspaper last month, Ishant Sharma kept revisiting the tense Mohali night James Faulkner smacked 30 runs off his over to orchestrate an unlikely heist. That October night in 2013 still pains him and it reflected on his subsequent ODI figures. He conceded six-plus runs an over on as many as five instances in 13 outings, the last coming in the January 2016.
The limited-overs slump, ironically, coincided with his best phase in the longest format of the game. Since January 2017, Ishant has bagged 55 wickets in 17 Tests at an average of 25.85, fashioning several famous wins overseas — so much so that a parallel narrative can be drawn with Cheteshwar Pujara. Like the latter, he was swiftly categorised a Test-match specialist and went unsold in the previous IPL auction.
A similar fate lurked this time around as well, before Delhi Capitals pocketed him and offered him a shot at reviving his white-ball career. Though he hasn’t played a List A match since June 2018, or wasn’t quite thrifty or penetrative in the Syed Mushtaq Trophy, he hopes to turn his limited-over fortunes around this IPL and even nurses World Cup hopes. “I am always a positive guy and always think something good is going to happen to me. I have opportunities to avail in this IPL. The Indian team is still looking for a fourth seamer. Hopefully, I am that fourth seamer”.
Clinching a World Cup berth may not be as easy as he makes it sound, but it’s not as bleak as it had once seemed, either. For, none of Khaleel Ahmed, Siddharth Kaul or Umesh Yadav have justified the selectors’ faith, and hence, if they decide to pick four seamers for the World Cup, Ishant could be an outsider. Then, there is the possibility of one of their three first-choice seamers picking up an injury. In fact, all three are quite injury-prone. Ishant himself has agonised over his injury before the 2015 World Cup, which paved the way for Mohit Sharma. Similarly, Praveen Kumar got injured just before the 2011 edition, giving S Sreesanth an unexpected break.
So Ishant can keep himself in the loop with a clutch of telling figures. Delhi’s head coach Ricky Ponting, who was at the receiving end of Ishant’s burst in the Perth Test in 2008, observes that the pacer has re-calibrated his limited-overs bowling. “His ability to bowl the yorkers has been better than ever before. His experience is invaluable. It’s been talked for a long time that T20 cricket is a young man’s game, but it’s not what I believe. It’s probably an older person’s game and experienced players who can think their ways through tough situations. I watched him closely in the Test series. He was bowling beautifully and his pace was up. His pace was in the 140kmph bracket. It says that he was in control of his action and was confident,” Ponting said.
If Ishant does indeed make this chance count, “that Faulkner over” will likely be consigned to the bin.
(Niharika Raina is an intern with The Indian Express.)