No Indian fast bowler has been ridiculed as much as Ishant Sharma. While Rohit Sharma has arrived in ODIs and “Sir” is more of a title of respect than ridicule for Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant continues to be the flogging horse.
Sample some Ishant jokes on the Internet…
Behind every successful batsman there is a Kamran Akmal, and in front of them is Ishant Sharma.
(Note: Akmal is notoriously known for dropping sitters.)
Opposition Coach: Well played boys! But you shouldn't have scored that many runs of Ishant Sharma. They may drop him now.
I am going to launch a Facebook page called: “I was alive when Ishant Sharma took a wicket”.
RT if you can bowl better than Ishant Sharma.
However when you look at the success of Team India on foreign Test pitches and then take a look at Ishant in those matches, then a totally different picture emerges.
From 2011-14, India has won just two foreign Tests. The first was at Kingston in 2011. Replying to India’s 246, West Indies was 173 all down. Ishant was the pick of bowlers with 3-29. He made two quick breakthroughs to have the Windies reeling at 35-2 and finally removed dangerous hitter captain Darren Sammy to ensure that the tail didn’t wag.
In the second innings Ishant and Praveen Kumar (who has since been discarded) took three wickets each as the opposition was 262 all down chasing 326. Again, Ishant got us two top order breakthroughs to dent the Windies victory chase.
In the second Test of the series, Ishant bettered his performance. In the first innings he took six wickets and in the second he took four as West Indies finished at 202-7 chasing 281saved only by rain. Ishant was man of the match. In the third Test Ishant took a 5-wicket haul in the first innings and the match ended in a draw. Ishant was declared man of the series.
For the record, that was our last foreign Test series win.
The only other foreign Test we won was at Lord’s in July 2014. In the second innings England was chasing 319 for victory. With the way the Indian attack has been bowling on foreign pitches and with four sessions left to acheive the target, England fans were confident.
However in an astonishing performance, Ishant bounced the English batsmen out of the match with a 7-wicket haul and England crashed to 223 all down. England were 71-2 when Ishant went berserk. In his most consistent performance ever he took seven straight wickets after that and the opposition never had a chance.
What of matches that we were close to winning? At Wellington in February 2014, New Zealand crashed to 192 all down thanks to Ishant’s 6-51. In the second innings, the Kiwis needed 246 runs just to make India bat again.
That’s when Ishant’s luck deserted him. He went wicket-less in the second innings. So wouldn’t you expect the other bowlers to win it for a change? No. New Zealand went from 94-5 to 680-8.
Even if Ishant was injured and went off the field, and we were a bowler short, this kind of performance was unexpected. Ishant had put us in a winning position and if all the other bowlers don’t put their hands up, then there’s no point.
This was a repeat of what happened in Johannesburg, December 2013. Ishant was the pick of the bowlers in the first innings with 4-79 and thanks to him we got a first innings lead. He picked up just one wicket in the second innings and South Africa nearly won ending at 450-7 chasing 458.
While you can blast Ishant for not taking second innings wickets and thereby blowing away chances of victory in both matches, the truth is that we at least drew these matches thanks to his first innings performance.
It seems we can’t win (or even draw) foreign Tests without Ishant. In the above two matches he did get support from Zaheer Khan but even he is noweher in the scene now. The truth is that none of the new fast bowlers have stood up.
After Ishant burst into the scene in 2007, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Vinay Kumar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami made their debuts but none of them have matched even Ishant let lone Zaks and Kapil Dev. With Moeen Ali striking in England and Nathan Lyon in Australia, Indian spinners have proved to be among the worst in the world. That adds to the bowling owes.
To all this you can add the atrocious slip fielding where sitters are dropped with great regularity and you really can’t blame Ishant that much. Life without Ishant was visible in the Sydney Test. The very first over of the Australian first innings went for 6 runs. The initial 8 overs produced 50 runs. The openers put up 200 for the first wicket at a brisk pace. Australia ended with a very comfortable 572-7.
While Shami did pick up a five-for (3 of the wickets came quite late in the day), Bhuvi and Umesh together picked up just one wicket in five odd sessions. The top six Aussie batsmen crossed 50 as our Test bowling on foreign pitches continues to be a bigger and bigger joke. Unless we get a couple of fast bowlers who can perform on a consistent basis, Ishant is indispensable to India’s Test bowling attack.
Ending with another Internet Ishant joke…
Who is the worst bowler in the world?
D—All the above.
To paraphrase a famous quote…
Ishant is India’s worst bowler, but there is no better!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/