Veteran Ishant relishing leader's role

Veteran Ishant relishing leader's role

Ishant Sharma was fast-tracked into the Indian team as a precocious 19-year-old talent in 2007. Tall and ungainly, the right-arm quick, with a reputation to clock 140 kph, didn’t make heads turn immediately, but it was evident that the Delhi lad had plenty of promise. His moment of reckoning finally arrived at the WACA a year later on India’s 2007-08 tour.

The way he dismissed Ricky Ponting after a relentlessly long probing spell became the stuff of folklore. So impressed was Steve Waugh with Ishant’s bowling on that tour that he termed him the next big thing in Indian cricket. Ishant’s career, however, didn’t progress on expected lines. He has been part of the Indian pace attack for many years without looking the part of it for the majority of those years.

His 263 wickets from 89 matches (including his 4/41 in the ongoing Test against Australia) at a rather expensive average of 34.33 aren’t the stats that are a fair reflection of the quality of a bowler that he was expected to be. The 30-year-old, nevertheless, has remained relevant, sometimes due to lack of options and other times for his pure worth.

After years of being “unlucky”, Ishant finally seems to be doing justice to the initial hype around him. He has emerged as the leader of a young and impressive crop of fast bowlers. And this year in particular, he appears to have slipped into that role quite seamlessly. From Centurion in January this year to now in Perth, Ishant has led the attack by not only giving crucial breakthroughs but passing on the knowledge he has gained over the years.

The addition of quality pacers like Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah also seems to have enhanced Ishant’s effectiveness. Without being extraordinary, he has managed to produce numbers that weigh far better against his career statistics. Since the Centurion Test, he has played 10 matches and managed to take 37 wickets at an average of 20.75 and a strike rate of 47.2 balls per wicket as opposed to his career’s 64.3 balls.

“A responsibility has been added,” he said when asked about his role in the team. “Whenever there is a tough situation, I like to bowl and take wickets. I have seen senior bowlers put up their hand in tough situations and at that time I didn’t know much about it. But now whenever there are tough situations, I know what to do and I want to do the same,” he noted.

And he did so indeed on Friday morning when Australian batsmen were threatening to bat India out of the match. After bowling wrong lengths and lines, Ishant hit the right areas in the first over of his second spell and hastened the end of Australian innings with two wickets off successive balls.