Ishant Sharma is a modest young man. After winning the Man- of- the- Match award for his three-wicket haul against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy semi- final, he was economical with words when he spoke to the media.
At 24, it seems Ishant has been around for so long, but if one talks of potential and fulfilling it, he has not exactly done that. Before the Indian team left for the Champions Trophy, there were doubts as to how it would fare in the bowling department.
Bowling on pitches at home is very different from the conditions expected in England and Wales. Yet, the way wickets have been prepared in the Champions Trophy has suited India, as there has been something in them for the likes of Ishant and also Ravindra Jadeja.
We all know how Zaheer Khan led the bowling attack for years. His sheer experience, in addition to having learnt the tricks of the trade from the crafty Javagal Srinath, meant Zaheer improved steadily.
There comes a time when the lead bowler in the team is expected to do much more than just take wickets or contain runs. Zaheer did share his experience with the younger medium pacers and they will be able to tell us what finer points they picked up.
Ishant has been constantly backed by skipper M. S. Dhoni, who himself showed amazing confidence in bowling seam up to a batsman of the calibre of Mahela Jayawardene in the semi- final.
Often, people have questioned Ishant’s presence as for someone who has been part of the side for five years, he has not done exceedingly well. Just take a look at the statistics. In 51 Tests that he has played for India, Ishant has taken only 144 wickets. That is less than three per Test.
In ODIs, Ishant has played 59 matches and taken 84 wickets. The best, so to say, has come in the Champions Trophy, where the tall bowler has shown he is willing to take on the inspiring role as well.
It is not an easy job to be the lead bowler of any side where you have a young and inexperienced medium pacers sharing the attack. This time around, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has done well, though the same cannot be said of Umesh Yadav. There is a big difference when you compare Ishant the raw bowler who hassled Ricky Ponting Down Under in the 2007- 08 series to the Ishant of today.
If there are positives one can take from six editions of the Indian Premier League, Ishant is one such case study. Having bowled alongside Dale Steyn for Deccan Chargers — now SunRisers Hyderabad — he has learnt the nuances of fast bowling.
The young Ishant had a good in- dipper and not too much variety after that. Having watched the Delhi boy bowl well against the West Indies and Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy, one can easily say Ishant is now ready to be a leader in the true sense.
The best part about Ishant is that he realises the importance of staying grounded. He knows there is no reason to feel happy just about one three- wicket haul, as this one came after a huge gap of three years. Yet, it is the variety in his bowling and the ability to use the bounce in the wicket which makes him look good.
Irrespective of what happens in Sunday’s final against England, India have to look at Ishant as the lead bowler who can now share more with the youngsters in the attack.
The big test will be the away tour in South Africa towards the ends of the year. To bowl well in ODIs is one thing and hoping to carry that same form into the longer version another. Fast bowling has a lot to do with self confidence, the way you feel when you race in to bowl and how you hit the deck.
Ishant is enjoying himself and years of perseverance and Dhoni’s backing seem to be paying off. At a time when most people have questioned Dhoni’s style of captaincy in Tests — me included — watching a more mature Ishant makes for good viewing.
The way the complexion of Team India has changed in 2013 and the seniors have faded away, Ishant knows he will have a bigger role to play leading into the 2015 ICC World Cup.
If you look at the top slots in the batting order of the Indian team, nobody is missing Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir as Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are on song. Over the coming years, watching Ishant’s evolution may indeed prove to be exciting.