Ishant Sharma: Sleight of hand, twist of fate

Ishant Sharma: Sleight of hand, twist of fate

For a second, it wasn’t clear in what manner Vijay Shankar had messed up. The right hander had attempted to flick the ball and was clean bowled by Ishant Sharma. The initial reaction was to berate the batter.

Ishant Sharma(Delhi Capitals Twitter)

But as the replays were shown on the screen, it became apparent that the dismissal had little to do with the batter; this was all bowler; all Ishant.

As Ishant loaded up for the delivery, his fingers were on the seam — in as conventional a manner as possible. If the batter had kept his eyes on the bowler’s hand, he would have expected a pretty regular delivery. But as the bowler got into delivery stride, he shrewdly changed his grip to deliver a ball that former South Africa pacer Dale Steyn called ‘the best knuckle ball wicket I’ve ever seen’.

Shankar, who has been in splendid form this season for GT, was done in by the change of pace and Delhi Capitals had found an unexpected hero.

The pacer had dropped off the grid over the last year. He played just one Ranji game last season (20 overs, 46 runs, 1 wicket) and just 2 matches the year prior (23 overs, 101 runs, 1 wicket). The last Test for India was against New Zealand in November 2021 and by then it was clear that the team was starting to look at other options.

Injuries and poor form had led to a sudden dip for the lanky pacer and his drop coincided with the rise of Mohammed Siraj. The 34-year-old increasingly appeared a spent force. He had been representing India since 2007, so it didn’t surprise anyone either.

But going by the performance he delivered on Tuesday night, he’s still got some cricket left in him. The knuckle ball was just the starting point as he saved the piece de resistance for the very end.

Rahul Tewatia had just smashed Anrich Nortje for sixes off the last three balls of the 19th over. It had reduced the equation to 12 runs needed off the last over.

With Tewatia and Hardik Pandya in the middle, most would have backed GT to finish things off in style. But Ishant had other ideas.

He started off with a full toss but Pandya could only get two off it. The next ball produced a single and that brought the dangerous Tewatia back on strike. A couple of sixes and the match would be done. But Ishant wasn’t perturbed in the slightest.

“I’ve played enough cricket with him so I was just having fun with him,” said Ishant after the game. “I knew he was going to know what my short ball is, so I knew I had to double bluff him. Otherwise, I knew he was the type of batsman who can finish the game for Gujarat. So I was double bluffing him and bowling the balls.”

A superbly bowled wide yorker later, Tewatia miscued a slower ball and was caught. Rashid Khan was in next and he wasn’t able to get the big hits either. Delhi had won and so had Ishant.

DC skipper David Warner doffed his hat to Ishant in the post-match chat. “With Ishant forever getting younger and coming out and delivering, it’s amazing to see him. How much did he hold his nerves there at the end, credit to him. I was nervous there when Tewatia was going off… Ishant was so clear with what he wanted to execute and he was able to do that.”

It might be early days still, he’s played only four matches this season, but the pacer is showing that he can still swing it with the best. And given what he has been through that is enough reason to celebrate.

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