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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay – Ishant Sharma is born - much improved bowler since 2018

India's Ishant Sharma in action
India's Ishant Sharma in action
©Reuters

September 2, 1988 - Ishant Sharma first made headlines when he moved the ball both ways at pace in just his fourth test match against Australia at Perth.

 Ishant made his test debut against Bangladesh in a one-off test match at Dhaka in May 2007 and proved largely ineffective, which was not a surprise given the conditions. He returned with 5 wickets in his next test against Pakistan at Bengaluru and then made a name for himself by beating the likes of Ricky Ponting repeatedly on the Australia tour.

With some fine performances in ODI cricket as well, he was soon earmarked as the successor of Zaheer Khan. However, given the lack of bowling riches in the country and the amount Ishant had to bowl at a young age, it affected both his pace and confidence adversely.

The lanky pacer suffered a couple of ankle injuries on the way but was persisted with in both formats so much so that when he finished his 50th test, his average was one of the worst among Indian bowlers having played 50 matches or more.

In 2009, Sharma averaged 46.90. His test bowling average was 48.17 in 2013. However, the figures began to improve from 2014 when he averaged just about 30 or below. This included his iconic short-ball barrage resulting in figures of 7/74 in the Lord's test of 2014 against England which brought India a memorable 95-run victory.

 

 

2018 onwards, his numbers improved massively in test cricket. In 2018, he averaged 21.80, picking up as many as 41 wickets. Although he bowled less than half the overs in 2019, he was even more successful with an average of 15.56, picking up 25 wickets at a strike rate of 32.56.

This included the 2018-19 India tour of Australia when the Virat Kohli-led team registered a historic 2-1 victory Down Under. Sharma was part of India's pace bowling troika alongside Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami which surprisingly outperformed the Australian quicks - Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc. Sharma picked up 11wickets from three matches on the tour including a 4-fer and was instrumental in India's victory. 

“I had so many ups and downs in my career," says Ishant "and there hasn’t been a lot of consistency. So you are under a lot of pressure. Since 2010, I used to be under a lot of pressure to perform and lost my sleep over it. So I have stopped thinking. I will give my hundred percent to each delivery and the result will take care of itself.”

Sharma credits Jason Gillespie for the marked improvement in his game. “A lot of people would tell me that I need to increase the pace of my fuller deliveries. No one told me how to do that? It was when I went to play county cricket, Jason Gillespie gave me the solution.”

Thankfully, his pace is back, although not to the tune of 145 kph which he was capable of bowling in his younger days, but he can still hit the 140 kph mark consistently, good enough to trouble batsmen with his ability to move the ball both ways.

There are a couple more vital reasons for Sharma 2.0. One certainly is the belief of Indian skipper Virat Kohli in pace bowlers and his ability to utilise them in short sharp bursts. Another is the spike in India's pace bowling riches. This does not put additional pressure on Ishant's body despite being the senior-most of the lot as the likes of Bumrah and Shami are equally lethal.

Ishant has also played 80 ODIs for India but hasn't been able to leave a mark in white-ball cricket. That though hasn't deterred the 32-year-old from dreaming of winning a World Cup trophy.

 

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