An outstanding spell from Ishant Sharma, the city’s own son, was the boost Delhi Capitals needed to revitalise their IPL 2023 campaign.
The rain came out of nowhere amidst the scorching April heat of Delhi, bringing relief to the parched city as the thermometer finally relented.
The local fans, having sat through two defeats at home and three more on screens were still hopeful as David Warner opted to bowl. And they roared – living up to the Capitals jingle of roar macha – when news got around that Ishant Sharma was back.
Ishant has not played for India since the summer of 2021. He played in all three formats this winter – but there were only eight appearances. Only one of these was in the Ranji Trophy, against Maharashtra, in which he got only one wicket.
Ishant’s name stopped being discussed – in the media or by the fans – when the selectors announced Test squads. A comeback in any format seemed unlikely.
Here, Warner did not hesitate to give Ishant the first over… and why would he? Surely there is not another bowler in the squad, or even in the league, who knows this ground better than Ishant?
Of course, the Kolkata Knight Riders openers had a point or two to prove as well. Jason Roy and Litton Das were both debuting, Roy for the franchise, Das in the league. Roy, out of reckoning from the England side, was eyeing as many opportunities as possible to roar back. And Das had been Bangladesh’s best batter in 2022.
It took Ishant one ball to reassure his fans. It was not a wicket, of course, but it was just outside off, on a good length. Roy let it go. A dot ball is the commonest occurrence in the history of the sport, yet this one was special.
The gangling arms, the rhythmical run-up, the unkempt mane, the throbbing adam’s apple, the familiar line and length, everything about the first ball told fans that Ishant had found his rhythm straight away.
Roy ran a single, Das creamed the fourth ball through cover for four, but it did not matter. It was one of those days when Ishant would not be deterred by the odd boundary.
Warner gave Ishant a second over straight up. Roy flicked the third ball for four. Ishant immediately readjusted the line, bowling closer to the bat. The ball whooshed past the bat.
Ishant got a break after two overs. He asked for water. Murmurs began in the pressbox. Age. Fitness. You know the comments, the shaking of heads. Then they checked the bowling figures, 2-0-10-0. Eight dot balls out of 12.
So far, so good for a man who had missed IPL 2022 and had played four matches across 2020 and 2021.
He got another over inside the powerplay, the sixth, from the other end. Kolkata had meanwhile lost two wickets. They were 31-2, a tricky score where one batter had to take risks, for Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav were likely to stifle the batting in the middle overs.
Ishant had conceded two boundaries until this point, but neither were a risky strokes. Kolkata had been happy to play him out so far, but now captain Nitish Rana decided to take him on.
Unfortunately, that high release point – at six foot four he is unusually tall for an Indian fast bowler – means that if Ishant finds the right length, the ball climbs too steeply for anyone to hit against the line. All Rana could do was balloon the ball to mid-on.
And finally, three weeks after the start of the IPL, the fans in red and blue found their voice. Three overs, fourteen runs, one wicket. The teams broke for the strategic timeout, but this time no one seemed to care whether Ishant had asked for water again.
Ishant returned for the 12th over, and one could see why. Kolkata had promoted Sunil Narine – a known destroyer of spin – ahead of Andre Russell. There was also the matter of getting Ishant’s quota done and Impactplayering him out of the match.
It had to be Ishant. Roy, who had crawled his way to a 30-ball 34, got out of the way. Narine played the next ball to point. The ball after that, Narine backed himself to clear the mid-wicket fence without, perhaps, realising what Ishant had done.
Ishant pitched the ball on a length and, more importantly, put in enough to make the ball rise just enough for Narine to not middle it. Having anticipated this, Warner had parked himself at deep mid-wicket. He did not have to move much.
Ishant’s role in the match was over four balls later. He left the ground, his head held high, as the fans applauded the greatest fast bowler the city has known.
Perhaps this was a one-off for both Ishant and the Capitals, but then, Delhi is the city of resurrections, for it has been rebuilt not once but seven times. Maybe, just maybe, there is a turnaround somewhere, for both man and team.