His role in the team is that of a stock bowler; someone who comes in first change, after the opening bowlers have utilised a shiny Kookaburra ball.
But then, an inspired Ishant Sharma was a destroyer at the Basin Reserve here on Friday. The lanky seamer’s six for 51 — his best in Tests — enabled India bowl out New Zealand for 192 on day one of the second Test.
Then, India, on a surface where there was lateral deviation and carry all day for the pacemen, finished at a creditable 100 for two with Shikhar Dhawan going strong on a punishing 87-ball unbeaten 71.
Dhawan played and missed on a few occasions but also drove handsomely through covers and the straight-field and pulled when the opportunity came.
The left-hander rides on confidence and his century in the first Test has provided him with loads of it. When he cut and then swung Neil Wagner contemptuously, Dhawan’s belief was evident.
Earlier, M. Vijay fell to a vicious incoming delivery from Tim Southee that appeared to have brushed his gloves.
The enterprising Dhawan and a solid Chesteshwar Pujara (19) added 87 for the second wicket — the highest partnership on a difficult day for batsmen. In the last stretch of the day’s play, though, Pujara fell to an in-swinger of precision from left-armer Trent Boult.
Ishant was magnificent in the morning. He ran in with intent and delivered from an excellent wrist position. And the lanky paceman consistently hit the seam.
There was not much assistance for the pacemen in terms of a breeze blowing across — it was not a windy day — but they did get plenty of encouragement from the track.
The seamers were humming after M.S. Dhoni, incredibly, won his seventh successive toss on the tour.
Ishant exploited the conditions. Crucially, he kept his line around the off-stump, brought in subtle changes in length, and shifted his line admirably to the left-handers.
Southpaw Hamish Rutherford, held at first slip, could not keep a lifting delivery down. Peter Fulton was done in by one that nipped back; the right-hander was flummoxed by the off-cutter after Ishant bowled several away seamers.
And left-handed debutant Tom Latham was prised out by a mean Ishant leg-cutter for no score.
Ishant’s height and high-arm action enabled him to extract more from the surface. Since he kept the ball around the off-stump, the batsmen had to play at it; they could not risk seeing the delivery straighten or seam back.
Ishant took out Bradley-John Watling with lift and movement in the corridor. And he shifted his line capably to cut the left-handed Corey Anderson’s promising innings short.
Mohammed Shami’s skiddish pace and deviation complemented Ishant’s methods.
It was Shami who broke the partnership between Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum, India’s first Test tormentors.
McCullum succumbed to a fuller length delivery, unable to get to the pitch of the ball as he went for a drive.
Shami generated speed, forced the batsmen to hurry their strokes. For New Zealand, Williamson (47) executed some lovely back-foot punches through covers — getting on top of the bounce — but this was an innings where he was extraordinarily lucky.
The right-hander was on 15 when he nicked Zaheer Khan to Dhoni and on 23 when snaffled up at short-leg off Ishant. On both occasions — following requests from the on-field umpire — replays revealed the bowlers had over-stepped.
Williamson was eventually consumed by a testing delivery that swung away from Shami; Rohit Sharma held a smart low catch at second slip.
Playing in his first Test, the left-handed James Neesham (33) made an impression with a few firm off-drives and flicks.
Shami finally got a delivery to jag away from the left-hander and Neesham’s indecisiveness saw him virtually guide the ball to the ‘keeper.
Ishant returned to prise Southee out — the Kiwi had slogged his way to a handy 32. Soon Shami scalped his fourth, Pujara pulling off a stunning reflex catch at short-leg to dismiss Boult. Rhythm is a critical part of Zaheer’s bowling and the senior paceman has been struggling to find it on this tour.