Truthful Tuesday | Unlucky Amit Mishra right man at the wrong time

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Amit Mishra - A craftsman who ended up playing way less than he should have

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Truthful Tuesday | Unlucky Amit Mishra right man at the wrong time

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Anirudh Suresh

05/19/2020

They say sport ought to bring justice, that if you work hard enough you will eventually break through and have a long, successful career, but unfortunately, that simply is not the case for everyone. In this week’s edition of ‘Truthful Tuesday’, we dissect the unlucky career of Amit Mishra.

By 2016, India had established themselves as one of the most dominant sides in world cricket - across all formats. They were a side that was simply not accustomed to losing - not at home, at least; between Jan 6, 2013, and October 28, 2016, that is for a 1391-day period, the side had lost just a solitary bilateral ODI series at home. However, on the eve of the 5th ODI against New Zealand in Vizag, with the series level at 2-2 and with New Zealand chasing 270, with their trump cards Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in the middle, the likelihood of India’s invincibility getting blemished yet again looked inevitable- until a certain Delhi born-and-bred leggie took the ball.

What followed from the hands of Amit Mishra after he was thrown the ball that night was pure magic: he flighted every single ball above the eyelids of the batsmen, got it to drift in like an inswinger and made the white ball turn as if it was a Rs 10 rubber ball bouncing on a concrete floor. Oh and he nailed the googly too.

All in all, time and again, he foxed the Kiwi batsmen to such an extent that it looked like it was the All Blacks - and not the Black Caps - who were trying to play spin bowling. Eventually, Mishra ended up with figures of 5/18 and bagged the Man of the Match award, as India stormed to a 190-run victory to clinch the series. It was a night filled with hugs, handshakes and fist-bumps in the Indian camp, and one which is fondly remembered as the highest point of the leggie’s international career. However, at that point, little did Mishra know that there was a tragic twist waiting for him. The Vizag ODI, where he claimed 5/18 and bowled India to a series win, would eventually turn out to be the last time Mishra donned the Indian blue colour in the ODI format.

But how could it be? How could a bowler who bailed India out of trouble, won them a series and picked 15 wickets in his last 5 appearances, never play an ODI again for the country, in a time where the team really had no clue on who their first-choice spinners were? That is a question which remains unanswered till date. There is no definite answer to it. However, the truth remains that Amit Mishra should have ended up playing way more games for India than he actually did. 

As admitted by Mishra himself, injuries did significantly hinder his progress and marr his career, bringing it to a stand-still at crucial junctures. In both 2009 and 2011, the leggie missed chunks of the domestic season due to recurring injuries, and tragically, both those injuries came right on the back of successful Vijay Hazare and IPL seasons. But he did eventually bounce back and butt his way into the selectors’ radar and by mid-2013, he was looked at as one of the three main spin-bowling options for the country, alongside Ashwin and Jadeja. In fact, 21 of Mishra’s 36 ODI appearances came after 2013.

But it was the knee injury he sustained playing a T20I against England in 2017, which came right on the back of the purple patch he had towards the end of 2016, which all but ended his international career. In fact, that is exactly what happened - the Bengaluru T20I against England in 2017 turned out to be his last international appearance. The injury meant that he was pulled from the one-off Test squad against Bangladesh the same month, after which he never made it back to the international picture, despite recovering in quick time and even partaking in the IPL.

While his form did degrade post his comeback, the management completely ignoring Mishra and never giving him another chance in the national team was unjust, unfair and unrighteous. And, in Mishra’s defence, the selectors had every opportunity to give him one more match, if not reintegrate him back into the side. The dismal showing of Ashwin and Jadeja in the 2017 Champions Trophy, due to which they eventually got the axe, provided a window of opportunity for the selectors to either try out new talent, or give a long run to someone like a Mishra who’d been starved of continuity throughout his career. Eventually, they did go with the Kul-Cha combo which ended up as an enormous success, but there was every reason for them to go back to the veteran leggie. 

Not only did Mishra have the edge of experience over both his competitors - by then, he’d already played 68 international games for the country, including a Champions Trophy in South Africa and an overseas tour in England - but he’d also picked more wickets than Kuldeep in domestic white-ball games in 2017, including the IPL. He also boasted of an impeccable ODI record - 64 wickets in 34 innings - and had inexplicably been axed from the team at the peak of his powers, with him having picked 15 wickets in the last 5 ODIs he played. 

However, bafflingly, none of this mattered. The BCCI and the national selectors, who justified the selection of Wirddhiman Saha post his 18-month lay-off, stating that the keeper ‘deserved’ a shot due to having missed games because of injuries, did not apply the same theory in the case of Mishra, who was instead left hanging. 

A deeper delve into Mishra’s numbers, in fact, gives a clearer picture of exactly how good and effective he was and why he can consider himself terribly unlucky to have featured in only 36 ODIs for the country. 

Trivia: Amit Mishra made his debut in 2003, as a 20-year-old, against South Africa in Dhaka. (Bet you did not know this, did you?)

In the entirety of the 21st century, amongst spinners to have taken 50 or more ODI wickets, only 5 spinners can boast of a better bowling average than Mishra. Excluding Rashid and Mujeeb, who have primarily picked their wickets against associate batsmen, truncates the list to three - Saeed Ajmal, Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan.

Best bowling average for spinners in ODI cricket in 21st century (min 50 wickets) © ESPN Cricinfo

In fact, amongst Indian spinners to have taken a minimum of 50 wickets in ODI cricket, Mishra’s bowling average of 23.60 is the best.

Best bowling average for Indian spinners in ODI history (min 50 wickets) © ESPN Cricinfo

But the agony doesn’t end there for Mishra. While the IPL has been seen by the selectors as some sort of a special platform where a good performance will guarantee national selection, for Mishra, however, that has not been the case. With 157 wickets in 147 games at a miserly economy rate of 7.35, Mishra stands tall as the second-highest wicket-taker in the competition’s history, yet throughout his career, the feat has meant nothing. While the Pandyas and the Chahars and the Bumrahs have seen their national career take off due to the IPL, Mishra has instead viewed the tournament as his only tool to exist in the minds of people; a portal to ensure that he’s not completely forgotten. 

Right person, wrong time is a thing. If you don’t believe in the theory, just ask Amit Mishra. He spent the first 8 years of his career in the shadows of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, only to be leapfrogged by Ashwin and Jadeja, before being blown out of existence by Kuldeep and Chahal. The thing that would irk him, perhaps, is the fact that it wasn’t that he wasn’t good enough; he just ended up being unlucky, as a result of which he did not get enough chances. 

Between 2003 and 2009, all the spinners who played for India, be it Harbhajan or Kumble or Murali Karthik or Piyush Chawla, averaged either close to 40 or over 40; but spinners, at that point in time, due to India’s inefficiency in the pace department, being used as more of a defensive option meant that Mishra never got a look in. The period post 2009 was arguably the toughest pill for him to swallow, though, as despite convincingly being better than the likes of Ashwin, Jadeja, Ojha, Axar Patel et al in coloured-clothing, Mishra was constantly overlooked for an eternity, only to be interdicted from representing the country after he finally hit his peak. 

With him being 37 and not getting any younger, the prospect of Mishra donning the Indian jersey again looks highly unlikely. There might be the Pragyan Ojhas and the Manoj Tiwarys claiming that their national careers never got the closure it deserved, but truth be spoken, the selectors, in those cases, had their own reasoning to omit the players. Mishra’s case, though, is a bit tragic, and he sure did deserve to play more games than what he eventually did. Now excuse me while I watch his googly to BJ Watling in Vizag on loop till the skies turn dark. 

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