Pace, bounce and movement. Ishant Sharma had all the three in his arsenal once upon a time.
Tormenting a batsman of Ricky Ponting's calibre is no mean feat, but Ishant Sharma made it look like child’s play in the tour to Australia in 2007. At 6'4", Ishant Sharma was the most successful bowler in the tour and Steve Waugh touted him to be the next big thing in Indian cricket.
Since Kapil Dev's era (and in the pre-Dev days as well, come to think of it), India has always had a problem in the pace department. Barring Zaheer Khan, none of the other Indian pacers were consistent. A 19-year old Ishant Sharma looked to have been the exception, back then. His dream run continued as he kept picking up wickets. In the inaugural, 2008 edition of the Indian Premier League, he caught the eyes of everyone when he bowled Sanath Jayasuriya, sending the southpaw's off-stump cartwheeling.
What followed was a series of unfortunate events. Indian tracks don't offer purchase for the pacers and that critically hurt Ishant as he went on to lose the most important aspect of his bowling - his pace. It has been one of the major reasons why there is still a dearth of fast bowling talents in the country.
After a tough 2009, Ishant Sharma produced a string of good performances, picking up 76 wickets in just 23 Test matches in 2010 and 2011. Though he was out of the victorious 2011 World Cup campaign due to an injury, he deserved to be in contention for a spot in the 15-man squad. An ankle surgery ruled him out for the majority of the 2012 season and the lanky Delhi pacer, who started off his Test career in 2008, reached the 50 test mark only in 2013. To add to his woes, he had one of the worst averages for a bowler who had played 50 Tests.
He made sure to make up for his absence from the World Cup and played in the Champions Trophy. His performances in the league stages weren't great but he came through against Sri Lanka in the semi finals. After being battered by England in the finals, MS Dhoni trusted the fast bowler's credentials yet again and gave him another bowl after going at 9 runs per over in his first three. Two wickets in as many deliveries turned the match on its head as he dismissed both the set batsmen, Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan. The double blow eventually led India to a famous victory, giving India only their second Champions Trophy.
After finding his rhythm again, Ishant bowled well in patches. Though he was among the wickets, he kept leaking runs in the death overs and that proved to be too costly in the third ODI against Australia at Mohali, where he leaked 30 runs of the penultimate over, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
That didn't deter him. He redeemed himself in a tour of South Africa where he picked nine wickets in 4 matches. A couple of fifers against New Zealand in New Zealand saw him lead the list of wicket-takers in the series, but his costly drop of Brendon McCullum proved to be the crucial factor in the series as the then skipper went on to score a magnificent triple century to save the match.
His run with the ball didn't stop though, as he scripted one of India’s most famous victories at Lord's, when he almost single-handedly skittled England out for 223, ending with figures of 7 for 74 in the 2nd innings. But injuries reared their ugly head again and the pacer missed the next two Tests before returning for the fifth & final one. He couldn't replicate his earlier form and India went on to face a humiliating defeat.
He went on to take his career-best figures in ODIs when he took 4 wickets against Sri Lanka in November 2014. Inconsistency played a huge role yet again as he was dropped from the limited overs squad. He played his last ODI in January 2016.
Since then, Ishant Sharma hasn't got to bowl much in the longest format, with Ashwin and Jadeja doing most of the work at home. But when called up, Ishant Sharma has stood tall and has bowled well (in patches), reverse swinging the ball with Umesh Yadav, making life tough for the batsmen. Though he doesn't have wickets to show for it, Virat Kohli knows how much hard work Ishant Sharma has put in.
It was a huge surprise when Ishant Sharma went unsold in the recently concluded IPL auctions, where lesser-known names fetched huge money. It’s likely that the Rs. 2 crore base price played its part, combined with most franchises having less money.
He has faced so many disappointments in his almost decade-long career. But that hasn't stopped him and the warhorse is still performing well in whites at the highest level. His perseverance has to be applauded. Hopefully, the Delhi speedster will get back to his best form in the coming Test matches.
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