Mishra, finding second wind in emphatic style

Mishra, finding second wind in emphatic style

When Amit Mishra came into prominence in early 2000s as a leg-spinner in the classical mould, the one who would give the ball air and make it leave the batsman, he was tipped to go places. More than 13 years after his first-class debut, Mishra still hasn’t managed to eke out a permanent place for himself in the Indian squad.

The likes of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have stolen the march to cement their places in all three formats of the game while left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha has been the preferred choice for home Tests. It’s not as though Mishra has been totally dumped. But the 31-year-old, who has remained a part of the Indian squad for most of last four years, has spent a majority of that time warming the benches. It can be frustrating but he has wheeled away in domestic first-class cricket (457 sticks in 127 matches) and the Indian Premier League to keep himself relevant. It’s this undying spirit that has given Mishra another chance to resurrect his career. The Haryana bowler’s two man-of-the-match awards in the ongoing World T20 against Pakistan and West Indies have put the spotlight back on him.

“I always try and stay positive,” said Mishra after his returns of 2/22 spelt doom for Pakistan in India’s opening match. “I always try to improve myself, talk to my coaches and captain. They have helped me improve myself. I don’t think about the fact that match after match, I was sitting out. The entire team supports me and the coaches would keep telling me ‘your time will come, just wait for that.’ That’s all I needed,” he remarked.

In the limited opportunities he has got in Tests, Mishra has been reasonably successful (43 scalps in 13 games) while in one-day internationals he has an impressive tally of 40 wickets in 21 matches with the last seven matches alone yielding him 21 wickets. Agreed, these aren’t figures that will make one sit up and take notice of him. But given the nature of his type of bowling, one needs to be patient with Mishra. It’s not easy to establish control over the art of leg-spin as a slight error in line or length may render the practitioner totally redundant.

The one major criticism against Mishra has been that because he was too slow through the air, he was unable to make the ball turn to trouble the batsmen. And this problem got accentuated on ‘unfriendly’ pitches. His performance at The Oval against England in 2011, incidentally his last Test, cruelly exposed this shortcoming when he sent down 38 wicketless overs for 170 runs.   

However, his classical leg-spinning deliveries here to dismiss Pakistan’s Ahmed Shehzad and West Indies’ Marlon Samuels, both lured and deceived in the air to be stumped, gave ample proof that Mishra has worked on his bowling. A short man with a slight build, it must be really taxing for Mishra to provide that zip to the ball. “I have a worked a lot on my fitness,” he replied.

“I do not think I am slow (now). I have worked on my variations and I have tried to understand my game a bit more. That is helping me. There is no doubt that the more variations you have, the more it helps in this format. I have increased my variations and have worked on my speed a lot as well,” he pointed out.

Not a great fan of playing a third specialist spinner in the shorter format, MS Dhoni too has gone to great lengths to make Mishra confident about his game. Dhoni’s change in mindset to include Mishra as a third spinner may have been inspired by the leggie’s success in the Asia Cup here when Virat Kohli led the side.

“It is important that people bowl or bat according to what their strength is,” said Dhoni, talking about his advice to Mishra. “I personally felt he was feeling a bit of nerves in the first game against Pakistan. I went up to him and told him ‘you are known for turning the ball. You are someone who flights the ball, varies the pace and you have variation. So just don’t keep bowling the straighter one or try to bowl back of a length so that the batsman can’t hit.’ I told him ‘your bigger strength will be to flight the ball and use that extra bit of flight in deceiving the batsman’.” 

Dhoni also stressed on the need to back oneself even during tough times. “There will be odd games where, like some of the other bowlers, he may also get hit but it is still important he backs his strength and his strength will always be using the flight and using the variations he has got,” he reasoned.

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