Ishant Sharma the Batsman Arrived Long Before Ishant the Bowler
If ever there was a time to laud the arrival of ‘young’ Ishant Sharma, it is now.
At Galle in 2010, India were following on against Sri Lanka and found themselves at 246 for 8 when Ishant Sharma walked out to the middle. The last recognised batsman, VVS Laxman, sorely needed company and Ishant gave him just that.
For 19 overs, the pair stuck around forcing Sri Lanka to scratch their heads in search of a breakthrough. When it finally came, it was the big scalp of Laxman and the innings was almost wrapped up.
Ishant and Pragyan Ojha played out a further 15 overs. It didn't add much to the total but frustrated the Lankans no end. When the innings eventually ended, it was Ojha who was dismissed. Ishant had played out 106 balls and batted over two hours.
Lanka still needed less than 100 runs to win and would hurry to the total with zero wickets lost at over six runs per over. Ishant's figures? 4-0-28-0.
Two Contrasting Approaches & Mindsets
The match in 2010 revealed the two contrasting approaches and mindsets, of Ishant the batsman and Ishant the bowler, in the early stages of his career.
A mature batsman, a tenacious non-striker, a wise tail-ender; Ishant was that and everything more.
In the very next game at Colombo, Ishant would bat out 117 balls for 27. He would bat alongside his tail-ender mates for 40-plus overs.
Three months later, at Mohali, Ishant became a part of history, and perhaps a few anecdotes, when he combined with Laxman in a sensational partnership for India to steal a one-run win over Australia.
Walking in as a nightwatchman at number four in the first innings, Ishant occupied the crease for 18 overs, making 18 in 56 balls in a one-plus hour vigil. In the second essay, he had a more arduous task. At 124 for 8 chasing 216, India seemed out of the game until Ishant joined Laxman.
The last five batsmen were dismissed for 0 (Suresh Raina), 10 (Zaheer Khan), 38 (Sachin Tendulkar), 2 (MS Dhoni) and 2 (Harbhajan Singh).
The innings seemed to be spiralling downwards until Ishant walked in. The Aussies threw everything at him. Mitchell Johnson bounced him, Ben Hilfenhaus tested his corridor of uncertainty and Doug Bollinger angled the ball away from him.
Ishant was persistent, so much so that Laxman started trusting him. He was later dismissed by Hilfenhaus and we all remember the calm Laxman screaming at Ojha as India nearly fluffed the run-chase after the hard toil.
What happened in the big partnership before that short final wicket stand, set the stage for India’s win.
Facing 92 balls and making 31 runs, Ishant surprised a lot of people. Well, at least the ones who had ignored his few batting episodes from previous years.
He occupied the crease for 22 overs alongside Laxman and the partnership added 81 valuable runs to the total.
Ishant credited that knock to Gary Kirsten and the manner in which he was trained to put a price on his wicket.
"Gary (Kirsten) specially made me practise tennis ball bouncers with a racket. Because then Mitchell Johnson was playing. Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, were bowling quick," Ishant would later say in an interview.
“So, after the nets, me and Gary had a one on one session after everyone else had left. We were practising my batting for an hour. A bowler was practising batting. Even I was shocked as to what is happening.”
If 2010 was a big year for Ishant the batsman, it was a shocking year for the bowler. In 11 Tests, Ishant took 33 wickets at an average of 37.57. The next three years weren't great either for his bowling. Ishant averaged 36.69 in 2011, 75.57 in 2012 and 48.16 in 2013.
If he wasn't dropped too many from the side, it was only because a Jasprit Bumrah hadn't arrived or a Mohammad Shami hadn't peaked or an Umesh Yadav was even more frustrating.
Recently, a Better Bowler
In the last few years, his bowling has come together. Like in 2008 – when he had Ricky Ponting, at the peak of his powers, hopping around. Since 2015, he has four-plus wicket hauls in England, Australia, West Indies and Sri Lanka – that's four different continents presenting completely different conditions.
The evolution is most understood in how his batting maturity has seeped into his bowling and fielding. He is more consistent with his line and length, impeccable with his planning and execution and passionate like never before.
Even if it leads to one of those rare on-field altercations like the one he had with Ravindra Jadeja in Australia, Ishant is alive and kicking in the game, bowling with purpose ball after ball, over after over, spell after spell.
Most importantly, he is batting, bowling and fielding with passion, irrespective of how important the game is to his career numbers.
Earlier in 2018, he had made his maiden first-class half-century while playing for Sussex in the County Championship, combining with Michael Burgess in a 153-run partnership for the eighth wicket. Ishant made 66 in 141 balls, batting for more than three hours.
In Antigua, in the last Test, he made a vital 60-run stand with Jadeja, playing out close to 20 overs. He followed it up with a five-wicket haul, grabbing two stunning return catches in the process. He grabbed three more wickets in the second innings – an all-round performance that quickly got sunk in the euphoria of Bumrah's mesmerising five for seven later in the second essay.
At Sabina Park, Indian fans were furious at Rishabh Pant for being dismissed off the first ball of day two. They swooned over Jadeja’s improved batting skills but what they again failed to account for, is Ishant’s batting.
He surprised them yet again with a delightful innings, a maiden Test half-century studded with shots that had Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara standing up and applauding from the stands.
Of course, it is drowned by Bumrah again – a Test hat-trick with fast bowling of the highest quality. But if ever there was a time to laud the arrival of 'young' Ishant Sharma, it is now, at 31 years of age when he is peaking across disciplines.
(Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @imRohit_SN.This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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