Needed, Ishant the leader

Needed, Ishant the leader

Needed, Ishant the leader

There were many surprised faces around when Ishant Sharma came to bat at nets along with Ajinkya Rahane and M Vijay, and he had an extended session too, facing throw downs from fielding coach Trevor Penny.

But that long stint at nets didn’t prevent him from bowling full tilt at nets, often getting appreciative nods and words from coach Duncan Fletcher and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Ishant Sharma story, perhaps, was playing out in a nutshell at Lord’s on a clement Tuesday morning.

Gifted with all the attributes essential for a fast bowler – height and pace – and a willingness to work hard, Ishant, however, has not find matching success at the highest level. A tally 167 wickets from 56 Tests in a Test career spanning almost eight years is reasonable, but the talk has been more about the still unrealised potential.

Perhaps, it’s because of our minds travel back to that astonishing spell at Perth against Ricky Ponting in 2008. Ishant since then has not managed to touch similar heights consistently, giving only fleeting reminders about his ability to rattle the opponents.

Ishant gave one such reminder during the first Test against England at Trent Bridge that ended in a draw. India were struggling for a breakthrough in the face of stubborn resistance from Sam Robson and Garry Ballance on the third afternoon. Ishant dismissed Robson, Ballance and Bell in quick succession to open the door for India.

It was the pacer we once hoped Ishant would become – pacy and generating unsettling bounce at a good speed. But once England began the recovery process through Joe Root and James Anderson, a much more familiar Ishant returned. He looked bereft of ideas and flat, and the effect was seen on the entire Indian attack.

Once the most experienced pacer looked out of sorts, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami didn’t have anyone to turn for a suggestion, and it would have been impossible for skipper MS Dhoni to run towards bowlers with tips every time.

Here, perhaps, India would have benefited with the presence of someone like Zaheer Khan, an active presence even while not bowling. It’s the challenge that beckons Ishant – to be the bowling spearhead and a guiding force to the rest of the bowlers. And not just on this tour but during a time when India moves swiftly towards the World Cup.

Fulfilling a role

Eric Simons, former Indian bowling coach, opined that the Delhi man could still fulfill that role. “There is no reason why Ishant can’t be successful in England. He has got the pace and the ability to get bounce and he can also move the ball both ways – all are crucial for a pacer in England. He has the ability to get bounce from a fuller length, which can be very handy in England,” said Simons.

“To become the leader, Ishant needs confidence which will come when he bowls consistently. As far as I have seen him, his no-ball issue is coming down, and he’s getting more confident. It is the crucial part. At this level, confidence is more important and technical issues.

 To be a leader, a bowler needs to bowl well regularly and for that he needs to be in a calm space and believe in himself. Hopefully, Ishant can reach that space soon,” he added.

Ishant showed signs at Trent Bridge. Of course, as usual, there was no lack of effort from him, ran in and bowl relentlessly. He bowled 38 overs, three more than left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, in the first innings, and that’s a ridiculous number for a strike bowler.

It was even more striking in a world where primary bowlers like Mitchell Johnson and Dale Steyn have been used in short bursts to maintain freshness and edge.

But Ishant wasn’t complaining on that day at Nottingham, doing the role of an obedient mule to perfection. A workman all along, Ishant now needs to graduate into a leader, perforce.

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