At 97 Tests, Ishant Sharma was arguably the most improved bowler in the history of Test cricket. In the first half of his career at that point, Ishant averaged 38.44. In the second half he took wickets at 27.21 each. In the last third - which was 33 Tests - he averaged 22.90. In his last 18 Tests at that point, he conceded only 19.14 runs per wicket. Since the injury in New Zealand, though, he has averaged 32.71 over eight Tests, which is back to being consistent with his career numbers. Commentators have said during the England tour and the Kanpur Test that he has lacked rhythm, which affects the pace and the movement you generate.
India's new bowling coach Paras Mhambrey feels it is a matter of getting overs in his legs before he regains the rhythm. "Ishant hasn't played much Test cricket for a long time," Mhambrey said after the team landed in Mumbai. "He hasn't played the IPL and the World Cup as well. That does make a difference. Yes we are working on it. He has got enough experience under his belt."
Ishant went wicketless in his 22 overs in Kanpur but Mhambrey said it was not a big concern because he still brings with him the experience of 105 Tests. "Obviously it makes a huge difference having him in the dressing room with the experience that he has," Mhambrey said. "An opportunity for other bowlers to spend some time with him and understand the nuances of fast bowling. He is a great help around. Something which we will work on is his rhythm. We are aware of it. He needs a couple of games under his belt to get that rhythm going. He will be back for sure."
Does that mean Ishant gets to play in Mumbai to get back into rhythm or does Mohammed Siraj replace him? Or do both of them play?
"We will have a look at the wicket, then we will see what combination is right: three spinners and two seamers or two spinners and three seamers," Mhmabrey said. "Depending on that we will decide the playing XI. But everybody in the group believes whoever is part of the team is good enough to represent the country. And we know that the potential they have in winning the games for us. We will decide the combination on the surface, but whomever plays, we believe, has the ability to win the game for India."
India's training two days before the Test was cancelled because of rain in Mumbai so they perhaps don't know yet what the pitch has to offer. India will be hoping there is more on offer than there was in Kanpur. "I think we are happy, honestly," Mhambrey said when asked about the bowling effort in Kanpur where India fell one wicket short of a win. "If you look at the outcome of the game - yes we want to win the Test match, we were so close - but looking at the wicket it was not that kind of surface.
Jaffer: Siraj might replace Ishant in Mumbai
"We knew in the morning that this is not the kind of surface where you turn up and run through a side. We knew it was going to be hard work. Especially there was no bounce, the ball was keeping low. Unfortunately, a couple of edges didn't carry. Had that happened it would have been a different result. A lot of positive we can take, especially in the effort that we put in. Honestly, I feel we made a game out of it. Picking 19 wickets on that surface wasn't easy. But we really took it to the end."
"Very happy with the way Umesh bowled, especially in the second innings," Mhmabrey said. "There was one spell where he troubled Kane and that's so positive and happy to see it on that kind of surface. He created opportunities for us. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the wicket. [But] That created opportunities for others to rally around. Very happy to see that on that pitch. A really, really special spell. We wanted someone to put his hand up and say, 'I will give it my best'. He tried his best even though he didn't pick the wicket."
While Mhambrey will be involved in the selection of the bowlers, he is glad he is not part of the group that will decide who makes way for the returning captain, Virat Kohli. There is also likely to be a debate around Wriddhiman Saha, who didn't keep for long in the last Test because of a stiff neck, and KS Bharat. That decision, Mhambrey said, was going to be made based on the physios' assessment of Saha's injury. As of now he has neither been cleared nor ruled out.