Ishant Sharma – 100 not out

Ishant Sharma

Ishant Sharma had Ricky Ponting

Ishant Sharma

Virat Kohli has played a huge role in Ishant Sharma returning to his best.

Ishant Sharma helped Team India win their first-ever Test series Down Under in 2018-19.

Ishant Sharma

When Ishant Sharma walks out on Wednesday (24th February, 2021) at the renovated Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad, he will emulate the great Kapil Dev as the only Indian pacers to play 100 Tests.

Hundred Tests is a monumental achievement for any player, more so for fast bowlers, considering the wear and tear their bodies generally experience.

Thus, it is a testament to Ishant Sharma‘s supreme fitness and hunger that the 32-year-old is on the cusp of an incredible landmark. The Delhi pacer has had some sensational highs as well as debilitating lows during his chequered career.

Ishant Sharma has had quite a career since his Test debut Down Under. From being a ‘workhorse’ whose career was going nowhere, the 32-year-old transformed himself into one of India’s most successful fast bowlers in the longest format of the game.

It all started with a sensational arrival Down Under, with a then teenaged-Ishant Sharma hassling and harrowing Australian captain Ricky Ponting, one of the world’s premier Test batsmen at that time.

Ishant Sharma broke into the international scene when Indian cricket was arguably at its nadir.

Despite a star-studded squad, the Men in Blue failed to get past the group stage of the 2007 World Cup. So when the Australia tour beckoned that winter, there was a need to inject new blood in the team and start phasing out the ageing superstars.

Sharma had made his Test debut in Bangladesh that year, but it was in that tour Down Under where Ishant Sharma truly announced his arrival.

Following the infamous Monkeygate scandal in the previous Test and the horror umpiring that cost the visitors the previous Test, Team India scripted an amazing turnaround in Perth.

But nobody expected that the architect of the amazing win in arguably the world’s bounciest track would be a certain 19-year-old lanky pacer. Enter Ishant Sharma.

The Delhi bowler delivered an unbelievable spell to the then Australian captain Ricky Ponting. It was probably a precursor of what was to come in the next decade or so.

Despite bowling a long spell, Sharma had Ricky Ponting absolutely clueless about the direction of the swinging ball while having to contend with disconcerting bounce. The right-hander played and missed several times and was fortuitous not to be back in the hut.

Just when it seemed Ponting had ridden the storm, Ishant Sharma responded to his captain’s aur karega?’ (will you bowl one moreover?) with an affirmative. Soon enough, he reaped the reward with the all-important wicket of the Australian skipper.

Ishant Sharma had truly arrived. His six wickets in the series made everyone take notice of Team India’s upcoming bowling superstar.

He continued to make similar progress in white-ball cricket and soon began to become a fixture for the Men in Blue in both formats of the game.

After the highs Down Under came the lows. Ishant Sharma became inconsistent and his pace dropped as he endured a few injuries. This saw him in and out of the team, particularly in the 2009 Test against Sri Lanka, where he was dropped in favour of S Sreesanth.

Ishant Sharma was struggling to land the ball on the seam, which was one of his strengths. His scrambled seam proved ineffective, as he could only extract minimum movement off the pitch, with his moderate pace not testing batsmen enough.

Nevertheless, his ability to bowl long spells and keep one end tight stood Ishant Sharma in good stead. In home conditions, then-captain MS Dhoni preferred to use his spinners as attacking options. Naturally, Ishant Sharma had to don a less attacking role, something that suited him in conditions not always conducive to fast bowling.

Ishant Sharma was evolving from the genuine wicket poacher to one who could keep things nice and tight at one end. That perhaps explains why his wickets tally does not do justice to his ability and potential.

Although he has had the odd successful spell here and there, like the one at Lord’s in 2014 where he picked up seven wickets to win Team India the game, Ishant Sharma, the attacking bowler, was slowly receding.

Virat Kohli‘s arrival as Team India’s Test captain gave Ishant Sharma a new lease of life. The camaraderie between the duo was always strong since their playing days in Delhi, and that showed in the confidence Kohli had in the speedster.

On Sri Lankan pitches tailor-made for spin, Ishant Sharma picked up 13 wickets in the 3-Test series in 2015, helping the visitors win a Test series there after a long time. These were the first signs of Ishant Sharma returning to his fearsome best.

Kohli had made his intentions clear of strengthening Team India’s fast bowling department with a strict fitness regime. That went a long way in helping Ishant Sharma deliver consistent performances. The pacer also took help of former Australian speedster Jason Gillespie to work on his seam position.

It was the importance given to fitness, coupled with Kohli’s faith in his fast bowlers as match-winners, that helped Ishant Sharma resurrect his Test career. He was an unsung hero in Team India’s long home season in 2016-17, running in day-in day-out on pitches that had nothing on offer for the quicks.

The real test of Ishant Sharma’s coming-of-age took place in the overseas tours of South Africa, England and Australia in 2018-19. But he came out with flying colours, picking up 41 wickets in 11 Test matches at a brilliant average of 21.8.

While the likes of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah hurrying the batsmen with their pace and accuracy, Ishant Sharma troubled them with his swing and nagging line and lengths. In the process, he helped deliver Team India their first-ever Test series win Down Under.

Ishant Sharma continued his lethal form in the ensuing home season in 2019, where he, alongside Shami and Umesh Yadav, tormented the oppositions. He picked up 25 wickets in just six Tests that year, exhibiting unbelievable consistency and control.

He only played a single Test in 2020, as injuries kept him out of action, especially during the victorious series Down Under. On his return, Ishant Sharma put up an exhibition of bowling in Indian conditions against England in the first Test in Chennai.

On a pitch in Chennai that had nothing for the quicks, Ishant Sharma bent his back and reaped rich dividends, becoming the third Indian pacer to scale 300 Test wickets, Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan being the others.

Ishant Sharma could have had a more formidable wickets tally had he stayed consistent throughout his career. Nevertheless, 300 Test wickets in 13 years is no mean achievement. The tall pacer looks hungry for more, which only augurs well for the team.

With Kapil Dev’s record of 131 Tests in sight, Ishant Sharma was asked in a press conference whether he was thinking about the same. He simply responded by saying that his focus was to help his country win Test matches and series. That speaks volumes about his focus and professionalism.

Meanwhile, Ishant Sharma is now only five Tests away from joining Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid as the Indian players to have featured in at least 50 Test wins.

His experience and his ability to put a price tag on his wicket, a rarity for a fast bowler, should stand Ishant Sharma in good stead as he carves out a niche for himself in the rich annals of Indian cricket.

For now, Ishant Sharma is focussed on helping India win the Test series against England and qualify for the World Test Championship final at Lords this year.

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