After Ajit Agarkar announced his retirement, it was clear that the world was divided into two kinds of people: one, those who take to social media websites to crack often hilarious jokes on the expensive ex-spearhead of the Indian attack and two, those who tried to point out his achievements over all the ensuing hilarity.
Agarkar’s slight frame was the opposite of whatever is considered ‘ideal’ for an international pace bowler. Yet, there were times when he zipped through oppositions, even surpassing the likes of Dennis Lillee and Shane Warne in grabbing a player’s first 50 wickets in the quickest possible time. And a large chunk of those games were played against Pakistan and Australia, two of the best teams at the time. Yes, he was on the expensive side, and yes, his career took a horrific downward turn. But none of that takes away from the fact that Agarkar has remained one of India’s most effective bowlers of the 21st century. He was fast, he had a lethal out-swinger, and had the ability to terrorize the opposition with his actions rather than glares and angry outbursts.
On the day of his retirement, a man hailed to be the Agarkar of the age literally handed a rather comfortable match for India to sail through to the opposition Australian side. ‘A tribute to Agarkar’ that fateful 47th over was christened, and Ishant Sharma fell into a hole he himself had been digging for years and years. Even his staunchest supporters would have had to bury their heads into the ground and wait for the furore to cease.
Ishant Sharma has been frustrating Indian viewers for over three years now. We’re constantly reminded of his talent and potential, but we witness very little of it. Time again, be it an ODI game or a test match or an IPL game, Ishant never seems to be learning. He makes the same mistakes, sometimes over the span of an over, and is punished over and over, and so much so that the entire team’s morale is affected. This persistence to stick on with Ishant is baffling to the naked eye, but deeper down it’s nothing but a cry of desperation by the Indian selectors and captain.
The build up to India’s World Cup defence has already begun, and the 2015 venue is one where Indians have famously struggled. But needless to say, the Indian batting today seems to be the best in the world. For the first time in years we seem to have hit the right blend of youthful exuberence and wise experience. The 2011 World Cup final XI was the closest India ever got to that ‘perfect’ pinnacle of selection, but a retirement, a few injuries, some dreadful performances, and a scandal later, India were flung bac to square one.
The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will see the best of fast bowlers lead their team to the top. Dhoni knows this, the selectors know this. India’s fast bowling woes have been folklore in cricket’s history books. Very few have made a mark in India’s bowling history, let alone the world. Kapil Dev once held the record for the most wickets taken by any bowler, but even that record took its time and toll on Kapil, who extended his career for that sole reason. The eternally harassed Agarkar and the less-talked about Javagal Srinath are the only two fast bowlers that come to mind when you speak of the ‘great’ ones.
Ishant’s entry into the cricket world was seen as a signal of change. Here was (a) a tall, (b) a young, and (c) seriously quick Indian fast bowler who could actually be honed into a world beater. But since, we’ve seen the worst of teams manhandle the bowler in unspeakable ways.
It’s unclear whether all the expectation went into his head, or just burdened his lanky shoulders, but Ishant Sharma needs to be seen as an example of India’s fast bowling dearth. Here is a bowler, who would not have a place on any other team’s 15-man squad, constantly making his way to the first team despite having terrible bowling figures. India need to begin nurturing a pacey bowler in order to compete on the pitches of Adelaide and Perth, and Ishant’s recurring inclusion only means that nobody else seems to be on the horizon. India have swing bowlers, but swing bowlers don’t scare batsmen. Glenn McGrath got away with his medium pace because he was consistently brilliant, and a more than an ominous figure. If his bowling didn’t work, his words certainly did. India don’t have anybody like that.
There isn’t a single bowler who strikes fear in the eyes of a batsman. Ishant Sharma is a symbol of hope for someone else to come and take his place in the side. For now, Dhoni persists with the boy with the expectation that he picks his game, or another comes and replaces him. At this rate however, we’ll be taking a bunch of medium bowlers to Australia, something that will most definitely be regretted.