Okay! Admit it. We have all made fun of Ishant Sharma at some point in our life- “worst fast bowler to play 50+ Tests, eh?” How we ridiculed every fruitless spell he bowled shrugging it off as poor- not just bad luck- every time the commentator said ‘Unlucky Ishant’. Hell! we have even named Twitter accounts or WhatsApp groups for the worst fast bowlers in his name: Sir Ishant Sharma, Lord Ishant Sharma to name a few respectable ones. Beyond the cricket, we ridiculed him for his squeaky voice, his ugly-meted hair, and off-course this.
Jasprit Bumrah has been the talk of the town, and deservedly so. The right-hander, as he has done in his 12-Test career, bamboozled the Windies batsmen with his pace, craft, and hostility, claiming two five-fors in the process. Bumrah, with 13 wickets finished as the most successful bowler. Since his debut in January 2018 in South Africa, Bumrah boasts of the best average [19.24] by an Indian bowler. Guess! Who’s at the second spot? Mohammed Shami? Ashwin? Bhuvneshwar? Umesh? Naah! It’s the workhorse: Ishant Sharma [19.78].
If you have followed Ishant’s career trajectory ever since he made his Test debut as a squeaky teenager back in 2007, you’d know it better than most, what a rollercoaster it has been. It has almost been Rohit Sharmaesque albeit in a different format and with far less attention and adulation. From rising to instant fame courtesy a ‘once in a lifetime’ spell to Ricky Ponting in the summer of 2008 to drowning himself in the garb of prolong period of inconsistency to becoming the workhorse of the pace attack in recent years, Ishant’s transformation has been a story of immense self-belief and off-course insane hard work.
And, like Rohit Sharma in white-ball cricket, its been a story of two halves: a prolonged period of injustice to their talent followed by a renaissance, almost a statement of sorts to their trolls or detractors. But unlike Rohit, whose story of redemption in white-ball cricket [since 2013] is much-celebrated [off-course, why not?] Ishant’s tale has mostly been played in the background. Yes! Bumrah’s magnanimous rise has played a part in it, but that alone can’t be the reason, it is the perception of an individual that we cease to shackle.
In the recently concluded Test series against the West Indies, Ishant added another chapter to his tale of redemption after a prolonged period of mediocrity that had lasted for the first six-seven years of his career. While Jasprit Bumrah finished as the leading wicket-taker with two five-wicket hauls, Ishant ended up with 11 scalps as the second best and it was his five-for on an unhelpful 2nd-day pitch in the 1st innings of the Antigua Test that really helped set-up the game for the visitors.
That spell at Antigua was also symbolic of everything that Ishant represents: a workhorse bowling relentlessly on tracks where more celebrated bowlers would pull out due to a sudden ‘injury’. Which is why its not surprising that he has proved to be an ideal foil to the fire of Bumrah at the other end. The rewards have started to come Sharma’s way finally. During the Kingston Test, the lanky fast bowler pipped Kapil Dev [155 wickets] to become the leading Indian pacer with the most number of wickets outside Asia.
And, it’s just a start. Sharma, 31, has 92 Test caps against his name already and is on the cusp of becoming the first genuine fast bowler [Taking Kapil Dev as an all-rounder] to play 100 Test matches for India; a rare feat for any cricketer but even more momentous for a fast bowler from India. And, with the kind of form and fitness, he has displayed in the past four years or so, one can never rule out more records coming his way in years to come.
If it does happen, it will truly be a remarkable completion of a story which started as a tale of a prodigious talent slowing turning into an underachiever before becoming a late-bloomer who ended up as an all-time great. But, irrespective of whether that happens or not, its time we start celebrating what has been a sweet tale of redemption. Bumrah is great, Yes!, but let’s not forget Ishant.
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