Paceman on a downslide
Ishant Sharma’s poor form has hit Team India’s bowling attack
The omission of Zaheer Khan from the Indian squad for the fourth Test against England at Nagpur is not just a signal of the end of the road for the veteran pacer. It tells us emphatically that time has come to think whether we have a pace bowler to assume the lead role in the post-Zaheer era.
The name that immediately springs to mind is that of Ishant Sharma. The Delhi lad is just 24, and has already played 46 Test matches and his talent is never in doubt. So, in normal circumstances the transition should happen quite smoothly, but here the case is a bit different.
He has 134 Test wickets at 38.17 and takes more than 11 overs for every wicket. It remains an unimpressive piece of statistic for a fast bowler who is fourth in the list of experienced pacers after Kapil Dev, Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath; the worry about him is not just about numbers. It’s more about him losing the pace and showing no indications of his readiness to step into the lead role.
Lack of pace
Pace has been in his primary weapon in the initial days and the ability to get considerable bounce added to his zip, allowing him to trouble even top quality players like Ricky Ponting, as he did at Perth four years ago. Now, he trundles in to bowl in the mid or late 130s – these days he hardly touches the mid 140s as he used to do in the initial part of his career and short of the length balls – his primary weapon – at that pace is easy meat for international batsmen.
But it’s quite disappointing that the Perth spell still remains the highest point of his career. It has become a fashion to call Ishant an unlucky bowler, who beats the edges several times without making contact. By now, after 46 Tests, his ineffectiveness has something to do with more than ill-luck, and Ishant needs to sit with bowling coach Joe Dawes and revisit his tactics, and start the process of gaining mastery over his craft.
It’s important for Ishant to develop as an all-condition bowler, someone who’s equally effective on the dust bowls, bouncy pitches of Australia and in the seaming conditions of England.
He has the example of Zaheer in front of him. Till that tour of England in 2007, Zaheer has been struggling to break away from the ordinary, but a stint with English county Worcestershire changed him as a bowler, propelling him to the top of his trade and the left-armer since then became an integral part of the Indian team till getting dumped after the Eden Gardens fiasco.
Since the time of Kapil Dev, the phase when the pace revolution in the country started in full swing, Indian bowling unit was dependent on one main figure – Srinath after Kapil and Zaheer after Srinath carried the burden of pace bowling manfully on their shoulders.
So, Ishant has a massive legacy to sustain, and that should work as a motivation for him, and it’s time the team management – skipper MS Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher to be precise – sit with him and have a chat with Ishant about his role in the team, if they haven’t done that already.
But others can help only to a certain extent in the development of a cricketer as the desire to improve should come from within. Now, he has to tell himself:, “I am the senior most Indian pacer, and I need to take up more responsibility.”
He needs to realise that the young crop of pace bowlers will now start looking up to him for guidance. Ishant has Zaheer to learn from in the team, and the new generation bowlers like Parvinder Awana, Umesh Yadav, and Ashok Dinda will try to pick Ishant’s brain. Now, he has to transform himself into a trendsetter than a follower of the trend.
But does he have the mindset to do that? It’s quite tough to gauge from outside, but that’s precisely what he requires at this stage – mentality of the leader.
It’s mandatory that now he prepares his mind in that direction, else the lanky pacer will end up as one of the tragic stories of Indian cricket.