No Indian fast bowler has quite seen the two sides to of the spectrum the way Ishant Sharma has!
His career spanning 13 years has witnessed a few zestful hights as well as deathly lows!
For much of his early career, Ishant was the big hope of Indian pace attack. But it did not fetch the desired results on a consistent basis in a career that has had its ups and downs with injuries playing an important part.
The lanky pacer made an instant impact on the tour of Australia in 2007-08, troubling the batsman of the calibre of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. The wiry seamer from Delhi became India’s mainstay in the longest format thereafter.
But inconsistent performances and drop-in pace followed soon as his place in the Indian team became uncertain. Ishant though bogged down by nagging injuries never let his guard down, making comebacks to the Test side under the stewardship of MS Dhoni in 2013.
In 2014 Boxing Day Test against Australia, premier Aussie batsman Steve Smith scored his fifth hundred of that calendar year while Ishant also reached three figures, albeit in a different way.
That performance was met by constant jibes by critics and media alike, but Ishant never let that affect him. Skipper MS Dhoni sensed that Ishant needed to reinvent himself. There was something that had affected the crux of his bowling.
Was he trying too hard? Was he not penetrative, or simply not fit enough? Or, was there too much to do, the lone wolf situation?
Ishant Sharma’s renaissance
If we divide Ishant’s career into two halves, his average makes a stark reading: First half-48 Tests-Average 38; second half-49 Tests-average 27.
While Ishant has made remarkable strides in the latter part of his career, those strides have been even greater in the last 4 years. In his most recent 33 Tests, going back to August 2015-Ishant averages 22. The credit for this sharp upward trend has to be given to Virat Kohli and bowling coach Bharat Arun. Kohli has time and again stressed on the importance of wicket-taking bowlers and relies heavily on his fellow Delhite to lead the pack of bowlers.
Since 2015, Kohli and the team management have asked the BCCI curators to make truer tracks at home, prompting fast bowlers to be equally lethal as the tweakers.
One more important aspect for Ishant’s to find his mojo is his two-month county cricket stint at Sussex.
He discovered a new length to trouble batsmen and developed the ball that straightened to right-handers. In the Sussex dressing room, Ishant would make new friends and meet a mentor who would change him as a bowler. Team coach and former Aussie international pacer Jason Gillespie. England taught Sharma to think and reinvent his art.
Those two months on the British Isles would make Ishant wiser. Earlier, he would have an odd good spell. Recently, he has reinvented himself and has been bowling more mean, effective short bursts.
Ishant Sharma: overseas specialist
At his age and with his experience, the 6’3″ bowler has come of age and become the bowling mainstay over the years. One remarkable stat is the when it comes to overseas matches, especially SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) Ishant’s performance go a notch up. He has been part of 38 Tests in these countries, winning 22 of them-a very high percentage.
Then again captains play a key role in a bowlers’ effectiveness. Under MS Dhoni, Ishant claimed 102 wickets at an average of 37, however, under Kohli’s stewardship he has shown drastic improvement, snapping up 75 wickets at 23 a-piece.
Ishant now has grown in the role and is the leader of the Indian pace attack, which bares and impressive look with Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the mix.
His role if often undervalued but he has finally come of age and started his true worth. In many ways, Ishant is the leader of the group. He has seen it all over a career that is now just three Tests shy of a century.
Since 2018, Ishant’s dwindling career graph has overseen a remarkable revival. If all goes to plan in these extremely uncertain times, the third Test between Australia and India later this season will be Ishant Sharma’s 100th, but the lanky has already done enough to justify the tag of the most improved bowler.