“I love being the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack and it is a privilege for any fast bowler” – Ishant Sharma.
Before the Australia series began, Ishant Sharma proclaimed his happiness about how he loved being the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack in a very long and candid interview.
With 30 wickets in 18 ODIs last season, he did an acceptable job of leading a malnourished Indian bowling attack in the absence of Zaheer Khan. His claims gained more credence after his match-winning over in the Champions Trophy final that saw India through against England a few months back.
Although he has been quite a disaster in the Test arena, his performances in the ODIs held him in good stead and the stats also leaned towards him.
You might be shocked but Ishant Sharma has a better strike-rate in ODIs than Glenn McGrath, Zaheer Khan, Curtley Ambrose, James Anderson and even the great Wasim Akram. Now, hang on a minute before you dismiss it as a joke. According to the current stats, Ishant Sharma stands as the 19th bowler in the world in terms of all time best ODI strike-rates and only 2nd behind Ajit Agarkar as far as Indians are concerned.
However, in the ongoing series against Australia, here’s what he has dished out, till now:
1st ODI: 7-0-56-0
2nd ODI: 9-1-70-0
3rd ODI: 8-1-63-1
Every bowler goes under the hammer once in a while, but Ishant Sharma, over the last six years, has shown remarkable consistency in being inconsistent.
In 2008, a lanky lad turned Ricky Ponting’s life into a miserable hell in his own country. He ran up, put the ball on an awkward back-of-good-length spot and opened up Ponting like a can of beans in more than one occasion. He didn’t get the ball to swing much but nipped it off the track at a considerable pace to make it very uncomfortable for the Aussie great.
Cut to 2013, he still runs up, puts the ball on that same spot but then disappears into the crowds. That’s been Ishant Sharma’s main problem – he hasn’t evolved, more precisely, he hasn’t improved. In fact, his career has gone nowhere and his performances have spiraled down over the last five years.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that though. He burst onto the international scene with his raw pace and was regarded as the perfect foil for Zaheer Khan. He never swung the ball but hit the deck hard to get exaggerate movement off the track with his height helping him to get the extra lift even on dead pitches.
However, he has never been a prolific wicket taker in any format of the game. He has bowled probing spells in Test matches and has picked up occasion three wicket hauls in ODIs but has always lacked the capability of running through a side.
But even if he didn’t pick up wickets, there were occasions when he looked menacing as a fast bowler- bending his back, running in hard and roughing up the batsmen with his pace and awkward bounce. The commentators harped on “how unlucky he was” but most importantly, the effort was visible.
He was always good but never got better. Sourav Ganguly once said, “Ishant has to learn to pick wickets now.”
He was right – bowling well is one thing but picking up wickets is an art. Picking up wickets is a skill and not many bowlers can master it.
Most bowlers at the international level bowl good deliveries but very few can bowl the wicket taking ones. It look great when a banana out swinger beats the bat or an outrageous leg spinner rips past a batsman but how does it count if it doesn’t induce the elusive edge or wraps the batsman plumb in front?
Of course, it makes for great television and the “Oohs and Aahs” add to the theatrics but at the end of the day, if the wicket column stays empty, no one really remember that great delivery that almost got someone out.
For Ishant Sharma, the “unlucky” phase is over. Forget beating the batsman for pace, Ishant Sharma doesn’t even look like a fast bowler now. He is completely lost on a cricket field. He might have a few solutions to fix his unruly mop of hair but with the ball in hand, he lacks pace, swing or imagination. At times, it even seems that he has no basic understanding of tactics, field placements, control or line and length.
Nowadays he bowls only two lengths – either too full or too short. Oh! Sorry, he does possess a third variety – when attacked mercilessly, he goes too wide as well.
The best example of his listless bowling was in the 48th of the 3rd ODI where he really mixed it up (messed it up would be a better phrase!). He lumbered in and delivered at a gentle pace only to see the ball fly past all over the park. The first ball was full and wide and Faulkner spanked it for a four. Then he went short and it flew over the cow corner for a six. The next ball was full again resulting in a six over the bowler’s head.
The next three however, were completely unpredictable(!). Three short balls in a row sat up and said “hit me”. Faulkner was too good to miss out on such gifts and sealed the game with a couple of more sixes.
India has problems with their bowling but it has never been their strongest suit. The batsmen were always needed to score 20 extra runs to give the cushion to the bowlers. It was a concern but when you bleed 300 everyday, it becomes a serious problem.
India, right now, lacks bowlers who can produce wicket taking deliveries, especially in the fast bowling department. Bhuvneshwar Kumar does his bit but the rest of the cast doesn’t match up in quality and Ishant Sharma has been the biggest disappointment.
He was supposed to lead the attack in the absence of Zaheer Khan but Ishant Sharma’s chronicles of being a burden on the team is finally out in the open. Some experts have pointed out his faulty wrist action while the others have attributed his fall to his operated ankle but his biggest problem lies in his mindset.
He has shared the dressing room with Zaheer Khan, been mentored by Wasim Akram during his Kolkata Knight Rider days. He shares the new ball with Dale Steyn for the Sunrisers Hyderabad which is coached by none other than Waqar Younis. If you can’t improve even after being in that elite company, then Ishant has no one but blame himself. His performances have been a major worry for India for some time but now even MS Dhoni seems to be losing his patience.
“I think the last few overs were disappointing, it is an area of concern and it is getting worse. You don’t need to spoon feed bowlers at the international level.”
Although the Indian captain showed immense restrain after the gut-wrenching loss, his strong words indicated that the time is ticking for Ishant Sharma.
And it should be because for someone who is a veteran of 51 Tests and 66 ODIs, such dreadful performances are simply unacceptable. Even on the batting-friendly wickets, much more is expected from the Delhi pacer.
Yes, the new ODI rules are against the bowlers and on such placid conditions, the “two new ball” rule doesn’t give the bowler much advantage either. Even then, the way Ishant Sharma has bowled in recent times, his career should be in jeopardy and he looks nothing but a shadow of the man who once clocked 152 kmph to give the Aussies a scare in their own backyard.