On slightly bouncy tracks, his short-of-length deliveries can sting but on the sub-continent, unless the strip is uneven, he becomes fodder to batsmen. (File Photo/AP)
Steve Waugh doesn’t usually resort to hyperbole. His approach, as opposed to his maverick predecessor Mark Taylor and his stylist twin brother Mark, was more measured and realistic. So, when Waugh once eulogised that Ishant Sharma was a blend of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, one was lulled to believe that India has unearthed a pacer of genuine promise. For, Waugh couldn’t err in judgment (unless he is facing Curtly Ambrose, of course).
Whether it was a backhanded appraisal or not — with each passing day it seems likelier — Ishant has gloriously defied Waugh as well as a legion of such-like legends who prematurely ordained him cricketing immortality. In as much as the same way as they did to Mohammad Asif, Vinod Kambli, Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash.
But only 25 and in a land where fast bowlers are as rare as firewood in a desert, Ishant hasn’t quite sneaked into that list. But he could soon, given his rapidly plateauing career-graph. When India head to their must-win match against New Zealand, few other names would be under so much pressure of being struck off from the team list.
For in the first two ODIs, he has leaked 118 runs in only 15 overs, accounting for only two wickets. And it’s not an anomalous scenario either. For, since the start of last year — begun on a promising note with seven wickets in three matches against Pakistan — the gangly Delhiite has been in perpetual decline, save for the occasional burst, on the allowance of which he has journeyed thus far.
Since his comeback series against Pakistan, wherein he promised another false dawn, he has whittled out only 31 wickets at 33.58 from 22 matches. All this at an economy rate of 6.05. This isn’t to say that Ishant was altogether bland. There were probing spells when he bowled with fire and cunning, like against South Africa in Centurion. Such spells, though, come few and far between.
It has come to a stage when he needs to reprise such spells on a more consistent note. “He is the most experienced bowler and he is looked upon as Zaheer Khan’s successor as the leader of the pack. And with so much experience, he needs to step up and take more responsibility. He needs to impact matches more often,” opined former India bowler Madan Lal.
Those who have seen him climb up the rungs swear by his talent and work ethic. So what exactly is diminishing Ishant? Has he lost it technically or mentally? Perhaps both. “Too many glitches have crept into his game. He doesn’t have fingers and the wrist right behind the seam as it should be,” observed former bowler TA Sekar. This means he rarely delivers the ball with an upright seam. Consequently, the ball hardly lands on seam.
Moreover, he has become a tad too predictable. On slightly bouncy tracks, his short-of-length deliveries can sting but on the sub-continent, unless the strip is uneven, he becomes fodder to batsmen. He can still beat the right-hander with the in-swinger but he hasn’t pulled up the ball that holds its line or even the yorker. Against the left-handers, he has the proclivity to bowl wide outside the off stump, making it easy for the batsmen to leave the ball. “He hasn’t grown clever as a bowler. Both Srinath and Zaheer were far from finished when they started off, but learned something from every match, worked hard and became quality bowlers,” pointed out Lal.
So how can Ishant redeem himself? Self-realisation could be the first step-up. A county stint might be beneficial. So might a brief sabbatical. “He first needs to sort out his game, iron out the glitches and realise his strengths. That should be the first step to redemption,” added Lal. India can’t afford such precious talent to languish.