Patrick Noone looks at how Ishant Sharma has become Alastair Cook’s nemesis as the England opener misses out once again at Trent Bridge.
After England’s victory at Edgbaston in the first Test of this series, it appeared that a narrative would be formed around the duel between Alastair Cook and Ravichandran Ashwin. In that Test, Cook was dismissed in each innings by the Indian spinner in almost identical fashion: bowled off stump owing to his failure to cover that line of attack. Since then, however, Cook has not lost his wicket to Ashwin in any of the three innings he has batted, instead falling on each occasion to Ishant Sharma.
Ishant is never going to win plaudits for aesthetics. He is awkward in the field, his overs take six minutes to be bowled, his delivery stride is at times so ungainly to the point that he loses his footing completely. Yet he has dismissed Cook on more occasions than any other bowler in Test cricket and this is the second consecutive tour to England that he has made a key contribution in a Test victory.
Ishant flew somewhat under the radar before the series began and he might well have not played in the first Test had Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah been fit. But he is deceptively well suited for English conditions. Only Sam Curran has found more swing than him in the series so far, while James Anderson and Chris Woakes are the only two seamers to have found more movement off the pitch.
|Bowler||Average Swing||Average Seam|
Cook has been found wanting against Ishant’s angle from around the wicket that allows him to move the ball away from the left-hander. Each of Cook’s three dismissals to Ishant in this series have been from balls that have seamed more than 1° away from him after pitching, before being edged to the wicket-keeper or slips.
It is telling that the only bowler to have dismissed Cook more times in Tests than Ishant is South Africa’s Morne Morkel, who has taken his wicket on 12 occasions. Both bowlers are similar in style and stature and the former England captain has struggled against them in successive home summers, with their lines of attack consistently coming from around the wicket. Morkel dismissed Cook four times in five Tests in 2017, with his ability to move the ball both ways a key weapon. Two of his wicket balls in that series were deliveries that seamed away and Cook could have left, while the other two deviated back in, trapping Cook LBW on one occasion and bowling him on another.
It is possible that Cook’s experiences against Morkel last summer are playing on his mind when Ishant is brought into the attack as, although Ishant does not perhaps possess the same level of control as his South African counterpart with regard to moving the ball off the pitch, he is nonetheless more than capable of bowling the perfect line to Cook and allowing a combination of seam position and natural variation to bring about his downfall. At the moment, Cook is unsure which balls to leave and which balls to play at outside his off stump, and one has to have sympathy for him when his dismissals are looked at in more detail. On each of the three occasions that Ishant has dismissed him this series, the wicket ball has deviated significantly more than the previous ball that Cook has faced from Ishant.
|Lord's - Ball before wicket||0.7°|
|Lord's - Wicket ball||1.2°|
|Trent Bridge (1st innings) - Ball before wicket||1.1°|
|Trent Bridge (1st innings) - Wicket ball||1.3°|
|Trent Bridge (2nd innings) - Ball before wicket||0.8°|
|Trent Bridge (2nd innings) - Wicket ball||1.9°|
For an opening batsman to succeed, it is vital in the early part of the innings to be able to line up the opposition’s opening bowlers and either play or leave the ball on line. Ishant, through the movement he is finding off the pitch, is denying Cook this luxury, giving him a torrid time and making his decision over whether to play or leave the ball harder than ever.
Cook’s issues against Ishant would be cause for concern in their own right, but they are exacerbated from England’s point of view by Keaton Jennings’ similar struggles at the other end. In fact, England’s top four are averaging just 19.90 between them, a lower figure than in any series of more than two matches since 1902. The home side’s batting concerns evidently go far deeper than the form of their ex-captain, but Cook is in desperate need of a big innings in one of the two remaining Tests.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.