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What Does India Do With Ishant Sharma?

Will Ishant play India’s first Test match against Sri Lanka on 16 November?

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Where does Ishant Sharma lie in Team India’s scheme of things?
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The much awaited Ranji Trophy match between Karnataka and Delhi began at a ground on the outskirts of Bengaluru on Thursday morning. When the teams were announced after the toss, one name was conspicuously missing from the Delhi line-up – Ishant Sharma.

Appointed Delhi captain for the first time earlier this season, it was surprising to see Ishant missing from the visitors’ line-up that took the field – particularly after he’d had fairly good returns in the first three matches and was Delhi’s most successful bowler.

What Does India Do With Ishant Sharma?
(Photo: Rahul Gupta/The Quint)
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One understands that the Delhi selectors chose to rest Ishant to give him adequate rest before he joins the national camp for the Test players ahead of the home series against Sri Lanka. In many ways, these recent events are similar to how Ishant’s career has unfolded– on many occasions, just when he has found that rhythm, he had missed the following Test matches or Test series – for whatever reasons – and has struggled to discover that form again.

Ishant bowled brilliantly on the tour of Sri Lanka in August 2015 – soon after Virat Kohli was named India’s regular captain; he hit the right lengths and troubled the batsmen almost every single spell he was brought on – even if the numbers don’t suggest that.

Former cricketers who watched him from the commentary box, then believed Ishant had rediscovered the rhythm and the length which would buy him heaps of wickets. Ishant didn’t find a place in India’s next Test fixture – after that tour of Sri Lanka, and he has not found that rhythm yet.

What Does India Do With Ishant Sharma?
(Photo: Rahul Gupta/The Quint)

Two years after that tour of the Island Nation, Ishant has only played 12 more Test matches in which he has collected 18 wickets. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami have edged ahead of him as Team India’s first-choice speedsters. Even Bhuvneshwar Kumar, whose bowling style makes him reliant on conditions, seems to often get the nod ahead of Ishant.

What Does India Do With Ishant Sharma?
(Photo: Rahul Gupta/The Quint)
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Ups and Downs – Story of Ishant’s Career

Ishant made his international debut in May 2007, and has played at least one Test match and one ODI in each of the subsequent years (yet to play an ODI in 2017). However, in the 11 years since becoming an India cricketer, he has only played a total of 77 Test matches – missing out nearly a third of the matches.

On the ODI front, Ishant has played 80 one-day matches out of a total of 280 ODIs that the Indian team has played. Where T20 Internationals are concerned, Ishant has figured in only 14 matches for India – missing out on 65 matches.

What Does India Do With Ishant Sharma?
(Photo: Rahul Gupta/The Quint)

The annoying thing – which is the reason for the disappointment – is that Ishant Sharma can be a wicket-taking bowler, if he so desires, and if he gets the opportunity to take the field regularly.

There have been phases in his career where he has bowled brilliantly and looked like the leader of the pack. The problem though is he hasn’t been able to cement his place in the team – and that has been for a variety of reasons.

Whether Ishant has talent is not a question. The decision-makers in the BCCI also recognise that Ishant is international cricket material – his height, pace, the awkward lengths he can bowl, and his ability to generate steep bounce are enough to be successful; that also explains the Grade B contract handed to him by the BCCI.

But where does Ishant really stand in the Indian cricket team’s scheme of things? One is pretty sure this conundrum is playing in his mind too.

Ishant hasn’t donned the India Blue since January 2016; his last ODI appearance was on 23 January 2016, and his last T20 appearance for India was in October 2013. Where Test matches are concerned, Ishant hasn’t found a place in Team India’s playing XI in the last four Test matches – though he was part of the Indian squad.

So on 16 November, when Indian captain Virat Kohli walks out to toss before the start of the first Test match against Sri Lanka, what chances that his name will feature in the playing XI?

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From being a teenage pace sensation to being identified as someone who would be the spearhead of India’s pace attack, to actually getting closer to becoming the spearhead, and then to lose his place in the team – Ishant Sharma’s career has seen several phases. Ishant is 29-years-old now, and may have a handful of years more to play. One wonders if the selectors have had a frank chat with him to explain where he really stands, and if he will have the opportunity to use his talent and convert it to some respectable returns?

What Does India Do With Ishant Sharma?
(Photo: Rahul Gupta/The Quint)

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