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Ishant Sharma’s poor run of performances demand requestioning of his selection

Ishant Sharma's erratic performances have raised persistent questions on his recent selections © Getty Images
Ishant Sharma’s erratic performances have raised persistent questions on his recent selections © Getty Images

By Bharath Ramaraj

Over the years, India have yearned for that one pacer who could whistle the ball through the air at thunderous pace and extract bounce for the batsmen to quiver for cover and leave the opposition in a state of trance. Mohammad Nissar, Amar Singh, Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath from time-to-time with infectious energy have passed the litmus test with their stirring heroics. But those virtuoso performances in the annals of Indian cricket have been too far and few in between.

When Ishant Sharma burst onto the scene as a greenhorn in 2007, and gave a working over and roasted a world-class batsman like Ricky Ponting at Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) ground, jaws dropped and eyes of Indian fans and scribes alike were wide open in sheer disbelief. He bowled with a hypnotic rhythm of a thoroughbred race horse that day. Six years hence, it seems like a fairytale story that never happened. The pacer from Delhi has been on a narrow trench of terminal decline and his performances have been largely abject and poor. Yet, MS Dhoni seems to have immense faith in the under fire pacer’s ability to come to the party in the international arena.

In any team, the strike force of the line-up is expected to wade through the opposition batting line-up upfront with his heavy artillery by taking wickets to give his team the upper-hand. Ishant’s showing in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in recent times though, has been nothing short of a disaster. Barring the abandoned game at Centurion against South Africa, Ishant has not been able to take a wicket in his first spell in the last eight ODIs he has played. Now, that is an abysmal record for a senior bowler having played 71 ODIs. Yes, it can be argued that Ishant was in rip-roaring form at the start of 2013 season.

Ishant’s record compared to other bowlers from January 1 2013 to before the commencement of series against Australia in October 2013:

No. Player M Overs Mdns R W Ave Eco SR
1 Ravindra Jadeja 23 199.3 21 752 39 19.28 3.76 30.6
2 Saeed Ajmal 20 180.4 8 768 37 20.75 4.25 29.2
3 Clint McKay 19 156.4 14 684 32 21.37 4.36 29.3
4 Lasith Malinga 21 160.5 15 803 32 25.09 4.99 30.1
5 Junaid Khan 19 152.4 17 728 31 23.48 4.76 29.5
6 Ryan McLaren 17 140.1 4 718 30 23.93 5.12 28
7 Ishant Sharma  17 135.2 11 726 29 25.03 5.36 28
8 Mitchell McClenaghan 10 91.4 3 479 29 16.51 5.22 18.9

He took 29 wickets in a mere 17 games during that period at a noteworthy strike rate of 28 and an average of 25.03. But that seems more like a mirage in desert now.

His career strike rate of 32.9 is still acceptable, but the direction of his SR and average are both going more towards south. His economy rate of 5.7 is nothing to write home about either. For him to survive with an economy rate of close to six, he has to be a genuine wicket taker ala Waqar Younis.

International Cricket Council (ICC) tinkered with rules in October 2011, and if we take October 2011 to now as a relevant time period, Ishant finds himself at a lowly 84th position in terms of economy rate. In his last 10 matches for India, he has gone at a rate of over 6 runs an over as many as five times.

Ishant’s economy rate compared to other bowlers for time period, October 1, 2011 to now:

Player M Overs Mdns R W Ave Eco SR
Majid Haq 9 84 6 306 11 27.81 3.64 45.8
Mohammad Hafeez 59 476.1 25 1790 47 38.08 3.75 60.7
Abdur Rehman 10 95.4 3 379 15 25.26 3.96 38.2
Boyd Rankin 9 68.1 5 277 11 25.18 4.06 37.1
Saeed Ajmal 58 526.1 33 2154 108 19.94 4.09 29.2
George Dockrell 11 82 5 338 12 28.16 4.12 41
Dale Steyn 25 216.4 22 898 42 21.38 4.14 30.9
Sunil Narine 46 413.4 28 1748 65 26.89 4.22 38.1
Rangana Herath 39 295.5 9 1258 40 31.45 4.25 44.3
Sakib Al Hasan 13 115.4 9 497 17 29.23 4.29 40.8
Sohag Gazi 11 89.4 9 391 16 24.43 4.36 33.6
Samit Patel 9 47.1 0 266 13 20.46 5.63 21.7
James Neesham 20 110.1 2 603 10 60.3 5.47 66.1
Ishant Sharma 25 201.2 14 1150 38 30.26 5.71 31.7

Note: Here for economy rates to bring in genuine bowlers into the picture, a minimum qualification of 10 wickets has been considered.

The above table gives an inkling that in terms of economy rate, Ishant is on a downward spiral.  He finds himself behind even England’s batting all-rounder, Samit Patel.

Let’s for a while digress from mere number-crunching. Ishant’s forte is to bowl back of a length and hit the bat hard. Now, that is fine until a pacer is able to extract disconcerting bounce and bowls with an extra burst of pace. Sadly from India’s perspective, Ishant has struggled to do that. Dhoni seems to have supreme faith in Ishant and that perhaps stems from the fact that he towers over six feet and gives hope that he can push the batsmen back for others to take advantage of it by pitching it up to ram home the advantage. At present, Ishant being a battering ram in the side is just a theory on paper.

In the ongoing ODI series in New Zealand, Ishant has been clambered at the speed of red-lightning for lacerating boundaries and sixes by batsmen, every-time he has been brought into the attack. He touched the nadir in the second ODI at Seddon Park, Hamilton. Here was a bowler who was clearly bereft of confidence, as during the last over of his spell, he bowled two feet wide outside the off-stump of Corey Anderson. Otherwise, he bowled in the batsman’s zone and was duly thwacked by the turbo-charged Anderson for the maximum. It was akin to watching a lamb being led to slaughter. In fact, ever since he was flagged down by James Faulkner’s breathlessly attacking brand of batsmanship in the ODI at Mohali, he has virtually been a cannon fodder for batsman on flat decks.

Dhoni’s blind faith in Ishant is simply baffling. Since his debut he hasn’t even improved upon his wrist position and has lost a yard of pace too. There are those who vouch for the fact that he works his socks off in the nets, but in the end, performance counts. Ishant Sharma has to question his own conscience and ask where is that unquenchable self-belief and the big heart of a chivalrous warrior that one saw from him when he bowled to Ricky Ponting in 2008.

 

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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