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06.02.2019  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

Team India is on the brink of completing two successful tours of Australia and New Zealand down under. This will be the first time an Indian team would return unscratched from down under irrespective of whatever happens in the upcoming T20I series against New Zealand. Hats off to Kohli & Co. for their exceptional overseas show.

Against Australia, India has levelled the T20I series one all, won the Test series 2-1 and the ODI series by the same margin. Against the strongest New Zealand team, India has won the ODI series 4-1.

India came into the Australian ODI series with an intent to unearth solutions before the 2019 World Cup for the perennial problems like identifying a reliable No. 4 batsman and a good third and fourth seamers to back up Bhuvi and Bumrah.

While India found a new option in the form of M.S. Dhoni to occupy the No 4 position, Mohammad Shami found his rhythm down under and to the great relief of the team management, has almost grabbed the third seamers' spot.

Now what is left for India is to identify a good fourth seamer who along with Hardik Pandya would form a formidable pace attack for the Indians in the World Cup. The five seamers plus the two wrist-spinners, Kuldeep and Chahal would complete India's bowling attack for the World Cup. Two wicket-keepers and 6 batsmen should complete Team India's balanced squad.

While so many youngsters have been tried unsuccessfully for the fourth seamer's spot, this article is about the virtues of selecting a tried and tested seamer in Ishant Sharma. As of now, Ishant is not even in the scheme of things for India's World Cup campaign but he would be an out-of-box thinking option and not a bad one at that

Factors favouring Ishant Sharma as the fourth seam bowler option

# Experience

Ishant Sharma is the most experienced fast bowler of the present lot. Ishant made his ODI debut in 2007 and since then has played 80 ODIs and has taken 115 wickets at an economy of 5.72.

If one doesn't consider his 90 Test appearances as relevant experience, even his 80 ODI appearances would be the highest amongst a current lot of pace bowlers. In an important tournament like the World Cup, the experience of a player like Ishant would come in handy especially in a crunch situation. As in Test matches, he could play the role of the mentor for the Indian pace bowling attack in the World Cup.

# Wicket-taking strike bowler

Though at times Ishant has been expensive, he has proved to be a wicket-taking option in the past. His natural attacking instincts would result in wickets. For India, the wrist-spinners have proved time and again that taking wickets at regular intervals has been the best option to contain the flow of runs and to restrict the opposition total to within manageable limits. Ishant would be the ideal bowler to do that job.

# Recent good form

During 2018, Ishant has taken 41 Test wickets in 8 matches at more than 5 wickets per match which was remarkable. He is the bowler in form who could carry forward his excellent Test form and confidence into white ball cricket.

# Better away bowling record

Ishant Sharma has a much better bowling average outside India.

Home record: Matches - 23, Wickets - 30, 4 wkts - 1, Avg - 35.53, S/R - 36.47 Eco - 5.85

Away record: Matches - 57, Wickets - 85, 4 wkts - 5, Avg - 29.38, S/R - 31.05, Eco - 5.68

The general impression that Ishant is a bowler who leaks a lot of runs has come mainly from his home performances on flat batting tracks. He is completely a different bowler in overseas conditions.

# Better bowling record in England

In England, Ishant has taken 10 wickets in 39 overs at an average of 21.80. All his 10 wickets came in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 where he was the 4th highest wicket-taker. His two wickets in one over in the final of the Champions Trophy against England was the turning point of the final which India won. Even in India's tour of England last year, Ishant took 18 wickets in 5 Test matches. Ishant thrives on helpful English conditions where the forthcoming World Cup is played.

# Lack of other better options

Since last year, the Indian team management has tried Umesh Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammed Siraj, Siddarth Kaul and Shardul Thakur as backup seamers for Bhuvi and Bumrah. But none of them has shown any promise even on helpful overseas conditions.

If at all, any one of them is selected for the World Cup as the fourth seamer, it would be a selection based on hope rather than on conviction. These bowlers, with their inexperience, would make only the numbers. They might not stand up to the challenge of playing a crucial World Cup match if one of the main bowlers has an injury concern.

Ishant, on the other hand, could make a real difference with his experience. He could play the dual role of the active main bowler and reserve backup bowler. He could be a handful with both the new and old ball.

Factors against Ishant Sharma

# At times, Ishant Sharma could be a touch expensive

# With his poor fielding skills, he would be very difficult to hide on the field.

# Ishant Sharma last played an ODI in January 2016. He almost retired from white ball cricket though he could find an interested buyer in the IPL auction 2019.

To sum up, it would be wishful thinking on our part to expect Ishant Sharma to be in the World Cup squad at this point in time. Nonetheless, comparatively speaking, he is not at all a bad option considering his vast experience and past accomplishments in England. So, why not Ishant Sharma?