Clint McKay is a classical tailender. And like most late-order batsmen, he has two favoured strokes. A heave over mid-wicket and a bigger heave over midwicket. Most casual viewers of the game know that.
You would believe that Ishant Sharma does too, what with the experience of seven years and fifty odd one-dayers behind him.
Ishant is now bowling the 50th and final over of the Australian innings in the first ODI. McKay is the new man in and Australia are four balls from the end of the first innings and seven runs away from reaching a total of 300. He isn’t eyeing the cow-corner, but it is rather evident that the arc of McKay’s swing soon will. That arc meets Ishant’s slow off-cutter dead in the meat of the willow, and the ball whistles over mid-on for a boundary.
That hit doesn’t see Ishant change his plan. He bowls another off-cutter, hoping (rather than believing) that the pace — far slower than the previous delivery — will fool McKay. High hopes.
The Australian waits a second longer and smacks the slower ball into the stands beyond midwicket. It’s only the second six of his 51-match ODI career and the expression on McKay’s face tells you he has clearly enjoyed it. The shot has also taken Australia to 303, a target India failed to chase.
After India’s loss, during the post-game analysis, an exasperated Wasim Akram — the first man to reach 500 ODI wickets — couldn’t understand Ishant’s choice of variation. “Against a right-hander who slogs, one uses the leg-cutter as the away spin could induce a top edge,” say the man who coached Ishant at Kolkata Knight Riders.
Earlier in the 38th over, bang in the middle of the batting powerplay, Vinay Kumar does exactly what Akram’s advocating as he bowls to the free-swinging, right-hander Glenn Maxwell. He tests the man, who is paid millions by his IPL franchise for owning every unorthodox hit in the book, with a back-of-the-hand slower ball. Only, he forgot to pitch it. Maxwell’s face lit up when he saw a slow ankle-height full toss, and he dumped it six rows behind the square-leg fence with a slog sweep. So Vinay went wide off Maxwell’s off stump and paid the price with a carved six over cover.
Unwilling to change, he bowled it wide outside off stump again. Again, Maxwell swiped at it and confidently held his stance to observe the ball sail over the infield for the third boundary of the over. But somehow, the shot didn’t climb as much as expected and Rohit Sharma got his hands around it at cover. Vinay, hence, was gifted the 31st scalp of his career. The wicket hardly had an effect on the remainder of his spell, what with James Faulkner collaring him for two more sixes in the 48th over.
On Sunday, neither Vinay nor Ishant seemed to have the pace (low eighties) or the right variations to really trouble any of the Aussie batsmen. Or a tailender for that matter.
Ishant ended up conceding 56 runs from his seven overs (an economy rate of eight). Vinay saw 68 runs being scored off his nine over (economy: 7.55), None of the other regular bowlers — Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Yuvraj Singh — crossed 5.66.
Vinay, incidentally, replaced Umesh Yadav in the squad for the one-day series against Australia as the national selectors considered the latter to be ‘erratic and expensive’. Funny, because in 27 ODIs so far, the Karnataka medium pacer has gone over six-an-over on 12 occasions, nearly 45 per cent of his career. And half those times, like yesterday, Vinay has let his economy drift to over seven. And in such a situation, when the 29-year old has gone over seven an over, not once has he claimed more than a solitary wicket.
Incidentally, both Ishant and Vinay have taken just a one five-wicket haul in the 93 ODIs between them. The question then to be asked is: Do the selectors really see Vinay (a man who will be 31 then) and Ishant spearheading India’s World Cup defence alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar (the only certainty so far) by February 2015?
If that answer is no, then Ishant at least has a Test career to look forward to, despite being one of only two bowlers ever to average above 35 after playing 50 Test matches.