Team India has been a revelation in Tests, especially in the past few years. Led by the inimitable Virat Kohli the Indian cricketers have certainly stamped their authority with the red ball. It is needless to say that much of the credit goes to the battery of Indian fast bowlers.
In this regard, the one man who has stood the test of time and emerged as a leading figure of Indian bowling is none other than Ishant Sharma. He is an embodiment of hard work and determination, traits that are a must for any successful Test cricketer apart from talent.
The importance of Sharma in the Indian set up can be gauged from the fact that Kohli credits the tall pacer for a lot of India’s success. The Indian skipper was effusive in his praise for Sharma ahead of the first Test against Bangladesh which India won convincingly a few days ago.
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A consistent performer
Ishant Sharma has been a consistent peformer. recently, Virat Kohli said this about him ahead of the test in Indore,
“Ishant has been probably our most consistent bowler in the last few years. A big reason for our success in Test cricket is his ability to keep bowling in the same areas and others come in and pick up wickets.”
Indeed, a cursory look at the career statistics of Sharma is self-explanatory.
He has played as many as 95 Tests so far and picked up 283 wickets at an average of 33.45. He is behind Zaheer Khan who with 311 wickets in 92 Tests is the second-highest wicket-taker among Indian fast bowlers after Kapil Dev.
The biggest strength of Sharma as a bowler is that he can maintain a consistent line and length, something which exerts a lot of pressure on opposition batsmen. It means that the others who bowl around Sharma have the chance to look for wickets, as acknowledged by the skipper.
Thrives on added responsibility
Since bursting onto the international scene as a fiery pacer Sharma has come a long way to become the leader of the Indian bowling attack. He has taken on the mantle from his mentor Khan. Sharma is now nothing less than a mentor to arguably the best bowling unit of the world.
He certainly thrives on added responsibility. A significant change was observed in his approach towards the game after he was appointed as the captain of the Delhi team. He admitted it in a recent interview.
As a matter of fact in the very first match that Sharma captained Delhi, the lanky pacer returned with a 5-wicket haul against Assam. He certainly relishes on responsibilities which bring out the best in him as a bowler.
Lessons from the past
But there was a time when Sharma found it tough to hold on to his position in the Indian team. Despite being someone who started playing cricket seriously only at the age of 16, Sharma made his debut when he was barely 19-years-old. But he made an impact straight away with his raw pace and talent.
Everybody started talking about the lanky pacer who was troubling some of the modern-day greats like Ricky Ponting. He was simply brilliant in his first tour to Australia in 2008. However, the dream start suffered a major hiccup as his form slumped.
He got dropped from the Indian squad which toured Australia towards the later part of 2009. He then kept coming in and out of the Indian Test squad because quite ironically he was unable to perform consistently. Sharma also had to deal with injuries during this period.
Never shies from putting in the extra yards
However, the Delhi lad never shied away from hard work and did manage to produce superlative performances every now and then. He had impressed when India toured England in 2014 and then performed brilliantly against Sri Lanka on their courtyard the following year.
One thing remained constant. Whenever the skipper threw the ball to Sharma one could be assured that there would be no lack of effort. There were moments when he kept on bowling long tight spells even if it was without much success in terms of wickets.
But it did give other Indian bowlers the cushion to get breakthroughs. Of late he seems to have transformed into a more wicket-taking option.
An exciting phase of his bowling career
The change in approach has started to show. Sharma was quoted as saying by the media recently that he is only interested in scalping wickets.
“Earlier I was just looking to bowl well. But now I am looking to perform and want to take wickets. Only wickets can change the perception.”
Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun had this to say about Sharma,
“He was always economical. He felt that he needs the batsman to play a lot more. What he is doing now suits his bowling best.”
With the experience of playing so many Tests and a newfound approach a determined Sharma is probably in the midst of the most exciting phase of his career. Expect more fireworks from the “lambu” of Indian cricket.