By R Kaushik in Mirpur
“The funda was to believe in yourself and focus on your strength without coming under pressure,” says India leg-spinner
For a leg-spinner, Mishra has tremendous control, as evidenced by his excellent T20 economy rate over such a long period of time. He is also an attacking bowler who is unafraid to give the ball air even in this era of short boundaries and massive willows that deposit even mishits miles into the stands, and he showcased the best of leg-spin bowling against capable players of the turning ball on his way to figures of 2 for 22 from four overs and the Man of the Match award.
Even for someone who has played so much cricket, and who has had such unqualified success at the domestic level, it was inevitable that he would feel the pressure on his T20I comeback. Mishra’s last T20 game for India was in Harare in June 2010; since then, he has seen R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja steal the march over him even as he has wheeled away in the Indian Premier League, for Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils and, most notably, for Sunrisers Hyderabad last season.
“There is always pressure if you are playing for your country, and that too against Pakistan,” said a contented Mishra as he soaked in the adulation. “Both sides were feeling the pressure. I am really happy I held my nerve and performed in this kind of match. I am really happy with the way we played today, and at the fact that we won today.”
Despite all his accomplishments – he took a record-equalling 18 wickets in five One-Day Internationals against Zimbabwe last year, played one game after that and had to wait another four months for his next appearance – Mishra has had to warm the benches given Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s reluctance to play three spinners. When Virat Kohli, standing in as captain at the Asia Cup, included Mishra in the playing XI against Pakistan earlier this month, the leggie responded with a spell of 10-0-28-2, and followed it up with 10-1-21-1 against Afghanistan in the next match.
“I always think positive things, I am not one for thinking about the negative,” said Mishra of time spent on the bench, and how he prevented frustration from creeping into his game. “I always try to improve myself, talk to our coaches, the captain MS. They help me improve myself and not think about the fact that I am sitting out match after match. The whole team has supported me; the coaches come to me and say ‘your time will come, just wait for your time’. I am really happy that the BCCI has supported me, they always have had faith in me.”
That this performance of guile and craft came against Pakistan, on a stage as big as the World T20, thrilled Mishra no end. “To do well against Pakistan is always special,” he said. “I have put in lots of hard work and I am really happy because we won this match and I performed in this match. In the last Asia Cup too, I performed well but we did not win the match. Now that we have won, I am really, really happy.”
It calls for great mental strength and supreme confidence in one’s abilities to give the ball air and bemuse batsmen as well equipped as the Pakistanis in a format as unforgiving as T20 cricket. “MS came to me and said, ‘don't think too much, you bowl according to your strengths’. My strength is to spin the ball and I beat the batsman by giving it some flight. I did the same. I had their opener (Ahmed Shehzad) stumped. I dismissed Shoaib Malik. You gain a lot from such small tips. The way MS Dhoni keeps telling me things helps in such a pressure game.
“My strength is to spin and flight the ball. This is what has worked for me, so I look to work on it and improve. In the short format, you cannot stop the runs. You always think about taking the wickets, how to take the wickets and keep the pressure on the opponent. It is working for me.
“I have a worked a lot on my fitness. I do not think I am slow in the air. I have worked on my variations; I have tried to understand the game a bit more. That is helping me. There is no doubt that the more variations you have, the more it helps in this format. I have increased my variations and have worked on my speed a lot as well.”
As for the Indian team’s approach coming into this game, Mishra revealed, “The funda was to believe in yourself and focus on your strength without coming under pressure – work on their weakness and look to increase your strength. This helped us. It was a high-pressure game. As a professional cricketer, you will have to have a big heart and you will have to take chances in such a game. I was lucky today that I took a chance and succeeded.”
Mishra is, like many of his India teammates, an IPL veteran, and he said India will soon grow into a T20 powerhouse on the back of the most famous and successful domestic T20 league. “The IPL helps a lot. All kinds of players, top-class players, come to play there. You gain experience there. You talk to people, bowl, perform in front of such big players,” he pointed out. “No doubt it helps a lot in the T20 format. There is so much healthy competition in the IPL. The team always improves due to such healthy competition. New players have come into the team and are improving, and in time to come, I think we will become a very good team.”