In January 2008, a precociously-talented fast bowler mesmerised the world with the spell that stunned one of the legends in the game, who was made to sweat for every run as he fought to anchor a fourth innings run-chase. The ball raced off the pitch at good pace, and the subtle movements off the seam had him in all sorts of trouble. He was hit — battered and bruised — playing and missing time and again until an edge to first-slip put an end to his agony. The young and unknown Ishant Sharma announced his arrival on the world stage with that remarkable spell to the great Ricky Ponting as India believed they had found their pace sensation.
Fast forward to the present, Ishant is yet to live up to expectations after the splendid display at Perth. With 49 Tests under his belt, he isn’t a “senior bowler” by his own admission — a statement that defied common sense. The bowler who looked threatening early in his career doesn’t seem to have the zing and the wickets column has suffered as a result. His career figures do not make a very good reading and reveal the extent of the inconsistency:
For a strike bowler, who is on the cusp of playing his 50th Test, these numbers are unacceptable. An average of 38.52 is on the higher side and he has only taken three five-wicket hauls. Interestingly, two of those fifers came against the West Indies in 2011. He carried that form into the first two Tests in the series against England that followed, but the graph has gone downhill.
For specialist bowlers [not all-rounders], who have taken a minimum of 100 Test wickets in 49 games, Ishant has the worst average. According to statistician Mohandas Menon, the worst averages after the stipulated number of games are:
(only specialist bowlers who have played 49 Tests)
Ishant’s purple patch was a short affair — the series against the West Indies in 2011. Initially there was a lot of promise, but he had never dominated as such until that tour. That performance raised hopes that he would build on his promise. However, since the Birmingham Test against England in August 2011, he has failed to take more than three wickets in a Test. Here are his shocking numbers since that game:
If one of your main bowlers averages over 70 in 13 Tests, it is worrying, to say the least, particularly when you consider India’s bleak fast bowling resources. India’s spearhead, Zaheer Khan lost his place in the side recently owing to poor form, and the promising Umesh Yadav is sidelined by injury. Then there is the enigmatic Ishant, who has scalped only 17 wickets in 13 games. How does one justify his place in the side? Is promise alone the criteria for keeping him in the scheme of things?
The conundrum has baffled the best in business as one fails to understand why the talented Ishant hasn’t delivered results. There have been occasions where he has been unlucky, but one cannot pin the blame on fate alone as it is a prolonged run of poor form. Clearly, there is something wrong with the way he operates and team management better figure it out.
The two turners at Chennai and Hyderabad did not help the pacers a lot, but Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2nd Test) and James Pattinson (1st Test) showed that the fast-bowlers could make a difference. Ishant would hope for more assistance from the usually lively Mohali wicket as he needs to make a mark soon.
With the axing of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, the selectors have sent a clear message — perform or perish. Ishant call ill-afford to take it easy as the heat is on him.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)