Ishant Sharma is earning both plaudits and criticism.
If the bouquets are for his stirring performances with the ball, the brickbats are for the blatant aggression on the field that has not just seen him fined 65% of his match fee but also found him in violation the ICC’s Code of Conduct.
The new-found aggression and maturity (as a fast bowler) has not gone unnoticed.
Dilip “Colonel” Vengsarkar considers the lanky pacer his find.
“He has been bowling at good speeds, hitting the good length often and getting bounce because of his height and action.”
Amit Mishra had this to say about Ishant’s efforts with the ball in the first innings of the second Test.
“The way Ishant bowled with the new ball was important on a slow track. His effort in the heat, that spell set the game up for us.”
TA Sekhar, India fast bowling coach, said:
“Basically, he is bowling a good line and length. There is an increase in speed from what he used to bowl earlier. After starting (his career) by bowling 145 kmph, he reduced in pace. But now he has gained speed and touching 140. He is expect to give breakthroughs in the first spell with the new ball. Ishant has played a lot of Test matches but doesn’t have a great record. He lacks variation like what Zaheer Khan had and this is something that he has to start working on.”
Another former fast bowler, Chetan Sharma, believes that Ishant is a much improved player now.
“Ishant is bowling well. I was in Sri Lanka and I spoke to him for half-an-hour. He sounded a very mature fast bowler. There used to be shy bowlers who used to sneak past their seniors in order to avoid a talk with them, but not Ishant, who comes and speaks to you. And that tells you about his confidence. He understands what he is doing. And, he has the backing of a lot of talented youngsters like Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and (Mohammed) Shami. I don’t think there is a problem in the pace department. If a pacer can pick up 2-3 wickets on the sub-continent tracks, then I believe he has done his job.”
Fellow Delhiite, Ashish Nehra, was slightly back-handed with his compliments.
“I am a big fan of Umesh Yadav — talentwise even though he has not fulfilled his true potential as to what he should have achieved by now. He is somewhat similar to me but my case was more to do with injuries. Varun (Aaron) and Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) are also talented.
But Ishant Sharma, who has played 60 Test matches (62) is the least talented among them but one of the most hardworking guys around.
If Ishant has played so much and for so long, it is a testimony that talent alone can’t be the recipe for success. Talent can only take you till certain point but is nothing without hard work.”
If Nehra is right in that Ishant is the least talented among the current crop of pace men, then Indian cricket is blessed indeed.
Nehra spoke at length about Sharma.
Asked about his higher-than-normal strike rate, Nehra said:
“Look, there is a perception about Ishant. I agree his strike-rate is on the higher side but in last one year, he has taken five-fors in New Zealand and England. So he is improving. Don’t forget, he is only 27 and has already played 62 Tests because he started at 18. We should not put undue pressure on him and start saying ‘drop Ishant Sharma and get someone new’. What will happen if he is dropped? Nothing will happen. BCCI should just ensure that a fast bowler is given enough time and confidence to settle down. Dropping a bowler after one bad series can’t be a solution. A new fast bowler would take at least two series to just settle down.”
The Delhi bowler believes that fast bowlers do better when they enjoy the confidence of their skippers.
“Look the bottom line is, if you are bowling well, then you need nobody for help. But there will be times when even if you keep a deep point, the batsman will still hammer you. Then you have no option but to listen to your captain and bowl as per the field set by him. Michael Clarke was a great captain till last Ashes and today Alastair Cook has suddenly become a great captain. If you look at history of fast bowler-captain relationships — for example Sunil Gavaskar-Kapil Dev or Mohammed Azharuddin-Javagal Srinath, that has always been the case. When the going is good, nothing matters. Everything comes out when the performance level dips.”
Sharma seems to have no such problems on this score with his current leader, Virat Kohli.
Scribes might have expected some censure from India’s fire-brand captain given that Sharma will now miss the first home Test against South Africa for his aggressive send-offs in the third Test and the war of words with opposition players.
Kohli, however, was unperturbed.
“I was very happy with the incident (argument with Prasad) when he was batting. It happened at the right time for us because we had to bowl on Monday and they made him angry. It could not have happened at a better time for us And the way he (Ishant) bowled in the second innings, he didn’t concede a boundary for 19 overs. That’s the kind of pressure he created on those batsmen because of one incident. He bowled his heart out like he has always done when the Indian team has needed to defend scores in Test matches.An angry fast bowler is a captain’s delight. I was really happy to see what happened yesterday and it switched some things on in the right ways. It had to be controlled but in the end it benefitted us.”
The spring in the step is back and very much evident. After two hard-fought series in England and Australia where the Indians came off second-best, they appeared a much more hardy bunch in Sri Lanka. The score-line could very well have read 3-0 instead of 2-1 if the Indians had plugged away as they did in the last two Tests. It is a team sport and moments of personal brilliance and stellar performances can at most win you a Test or two. It takes consistent togetherness and toughness to pull through a gruelling series.
South Africa at home will be the real Test. Can Team India do an encore?