Despite being just 31 years of age, Ishant Sharma seems like he has stuck around the Indian cricket scene forever now. Constantly labeling himself as a lamp that’s just about to be extinguished, continuously implying that he is in the final stretch of his career, Ishant Sharma looks more ecstatic on the field these days.
Ishant’s journey has not been a conventional one. He’s been here and around for a long time without being truly indispensable. “It has been a rocky journey with a lot of ups and downs,” Ishant Sharma said, reflecting on his career after Delhi’s win over Hyderabad at the Feroze Shah Kotla on Saturday afternoon. “But I have started enjoying my cricket more. It’s fun to play now. In the initial phase of my career, I used to put immense pressure on myself. I don’t do that anymore,” he said.
Even when talking about the mental perspective of things, which is very important for any sportsperson, Ishant looks much calmer and composed and more in control of situations that he once did. He is only four Tests away from that elusive milestone of appearing in 100 Tests. Legend of Indian cricket Kapil Dev is the only pacer on that list, Ishant could be the second by the next year. He has survived 12 full years of international cricket and witnessed completely different eras, uncharacteristic and separate in identity from each other and has gone from being a bowler to make up the numbers for the team and a backup option to an actual wicket-taker that scares batsmen. He has formed a crucial partnership with fellow pacers Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah in a new-look Indian pace bowling lineup that seems stronger than ever before.
“We are very proud that fast bowlers are dominating. When Shami and Umesh came in, our attack was inexperienced. So we didn’t take wickets in tandem,” he claimed.
“We share our experiences. Not just me but they also give their feedback about how the pitch behaves, about conditions. The communication is far better now. First, we didn’t know each other a lot, you are reserved but now the communication level is very good. Earlier, the fast bowlers would be rotated a lot. That’s also a reason that consistency as a group couldn’t be achieved. If you know that you have a pool of 3-4 fast bowlers (now with Jasprit Bumrah), that increases communication. Earlier, there would be 6-7 bowlers, communication wasn’t there.”
Ishant faced a lot of criticism for the number and duration of barren spells he has delivered in international cricket which was a huge setback for him. Under MS Dhoni, he was primarily a workhorse bowler whose primary job was to make up for the numbers and bowl overs for the sake of it, instead of focusing on attacking the batsmen.
“The problem in India is that everybody tells you about the problem but no one gives you the solution,” the pacer lamented.
“From the beginning, people started calling me ‘workhorse’. So seniors at that time would tell me that you need to bowl 20 overs, if you even give 60 runs, you will still end up getting three wickets. So you bowl back of length deliveries and batsmen start leaving those till they get set and then come back to attack you,” Ishant said. “Your job is to get batsmen out whenever you can. I was not experienced enough earlier but now I am professional and I know my job.”
The questions kept piling up and the solution came from Jason Gillespie at Sussex in 2018. “Zak (Zaheer Khan) gave us a lot of solutions. 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. When I went to play county cricket, Jason Gillespie told me the solution,” said Ishant.
He doesn’t mind talking about the nuances and drills that turned him into a wicket-churning option. “Gillespie told me that to increase the pace of my fuller deliveries, you don’t just release it but hit the deck so that it should hit the knee roll,” he said, adding: “Earlier, I would put cones during nets. But that’s okay for a youngster who wants to get his area right. But for someone like me, I need to see where my ball is finishing rather than where it’s pitched.”
Besides Jason Gillespie’s tutelage, there is also a Virat Kohli factor. Ishant’s comeback to the top of Test cricket coincided with Virat’s captaincy and given Kohli’s nature, it is not hard to expect the skipper to demand aggression and wickets from pace bowlers right from the word go. Ishant Sharma, however, prefers to credit ‘experience’ and not just a single person.
“During Dhoni’s time, some of us didn’t have that much experience. But when Virat took over, all of us had gained a fair amount of experience by then and that helped.”
Ishant is grateful to the people who have helped him turn his career around and having walked that path, he now understands the need to share knowledge in cricket. He wants to help his juniors with the knowledge he has accrued in the sport over the last 12 years and he still dreams of another pacer from Delhi wearing the national team’s colors soon.
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