Australia produced their worst effort of the ODI series against India in the decider last night, batting and fielding poorly as the tourists chased down a low total in Melbourne.
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In the universe of Indian cricket everything revolves around Virat Kohli. He is their leader on and off the field and undoubtedly their best batsman.
Coming in at 2-8 and chasing down 325, India needed him, and to date he has delivered. Besides a play and a miss every now and then, he looked like an absolute rock at the top of that order.
However, to focus on Kohli would be missing out on a story that has developed throughout 2018 – that of the outstanding bowling of Ishant Sharma.
Coming into 2018, Sharma was averaging 36.55, a poor return for a fast bowler, even on the spin-friendly wickets of the Subcontinent. Whenever he had come to Australia, his over-the-wicket bowling and natural shape across the left-handers were never a problem, and other than the wonderful duel with Ricky Ponting in 2008, it’s hard to remember a memorable spell from the tall Indian paceman on the Australian continent.
Sharma had averaged below 30 in a calendar year only once, taking 11 wickets at 28.72 in 2016. However, 2018 has seen him take his cricket to a level not seen before.
It’s fair to say Ishant’s career was at a bit of a crossroads at the start of 2018 when he was left out of the first Test team against South Africa. However, once selected for the remaining two Tests, he performed admirably, taking eight wickets at 18.75.
His 5-51 at Birmingham should have led India to victory. It was a brilliant second-innings spell in which he looked like taking a wicket with every ball, such was his swing and accuracy. He had helped reduce England to 7-87 only for a lower-order resistance to help the home side to a winning score.
He finished the England series with 18 wickets at just over 24. Another good return from Sharma.
Fast forward to Australia. Gone are the days of him bowling a line that the batsmen didn’t feel they needed to play. He has adapted to his natural in movement to the right-hander and away movement to the left-hander. If one had to be critical, it took longer than it should have, but some cricketers mature later than others. Graham Gooch was getting better when he was in his late 30s.
With seven wickets in this series at 19.42, it’s been a solid start from the flowing-haired quick. To date he has taken 37 wickets this calendar year at 20.75, easily his best returns average-wise over his career.
It’s been a long time coming, but Virat may just have the leader of the bowling attack Ishant has never quite been for his country.