Harare: Amit Mishra played his first ODI in April 2003, soon after India ended the World Cup as losing finalists. On Sunday, he played his 18th. A lot has changed for the legspinner from Haryana in the ten years between those two matches, but the task he performs on the pitch has stayed the same. He bowls to take wickets.
Mishra, 30, now has nine wickets in the series - the most for any bowler. Throughout the series he has caused problems to the top and middle order. In the first ODI his 3 for 43 played a big role in limiting Zimbabwe between the 30th and 40th overs. In the second he took 2 for 46. And then came his 4 for 47, the fourth-best figures by an India spinner against Zimbabwe, to help set up the series win.
It was not that Mishra found extravagant turn in Zimbabwe. Quite the contrary. But he has maintained a tight line, a good length, utilised his variations smartly and had not bowled many hit-me deliveries. The surfaces in Harare across these three ODIs have been a bit helpful, with some turn on view, but more than the conditions Mishra has prospered because of his discipline.
Much of Mishra's success this series has been based on his use of the googly, which has had Zimbabwe's batsmen pushing and fending and generally in a fix as to how to play it. Five of his wickets have come via the googly. It has been pushed in quickly, strung out slowly. It has enticed the batsmen, made them come forward, hurry back, and swing widely. Vusi Sibanda played forward in vain during the first ODI, Hamilton Masakadza was hurried into a slog. In the second game, Malcolm Waller misread the googly as he went to sweep. On Sunday, Waller was pinned to the crease, neither here nor there.
"I always talked to my bowling coach and he always asked me to go for the wickets. I always think that picking wickets will put pressure," said Mishra after taking the Man-of-the-Match award. "It's working for me. There are lot of upcoming players in the side. There's a healthy competition going on. We're enjoying it."
These nine wickets in Zimbabwe can only have impressed the selectors. While R Ashwin's position as India's No. 1 spinner is solidified, India will surely be looking at more than one spinner when they tour South Africa this winter and then New Zealand and England in 2014. Its possible Mishra will also see some playing time when India play their next ODI series, a seven-match stretch at home against Australia in October-November. He had to wait two years between his previous ODI appearances for India but it should not be that long before Mishra plays for India after this tour.