The most talked about cricketer in the land these days is neither Sachin Tendulkar nor MS Dhoni but Ishant Sharma. The only difference is that he is being discussed not in laudatory terms but in derisive terms.
There are a lot of sarcastic comments on the social media and two of my favourites are "Dhoni is not India’s best finisher; it is Ishant Sharma" and "Ishant Sharma does not have to insert a towel in his pants to indicate how many runs he is going to concede."
One would like to sympathize with Ishant but to be candid it is not easy. He bowled very badly during a vital stage of the Australian innings at Mohali, was taken to the cleaners by James Faulkner and a match which should have been won comfortably was lost in the last over.
There might have been other contributory factors like Virat Kohli’s over which cost 18 runs and Dhoni’s decision to have Ishant bowl that 48th over when Vinay Kumar would have been a better choice given the senior bowler’s abysmal record in the death overs but there is little doubt that the major factor in a defeat that should never have occurred was Ishant conceding 30 runs in that over.
After all, it is not every day that a bowler concedes that many runs in an over. Frankly that over provided a lesson in how not to bowl in the death overs. What he served was meat and drink for the batsman who took the maximum advantage of the 'hospitality'.
Ishant has a few notable achievements in his career and probably will notch up a few more but his name will be indissolubly linked with that fatal over. It’s a hard game, perhaps a bit unfair but that’s the way it is. My mind goes back 27 years to Sharjah in April 1986 and India vs Pakistan in the Australasia Cup final. Javed Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma to win the title for Pakistan is still the subject of much discussion.
Pakistan had only one wicket in hand and needed four off the last ball and a clearly nervous Chetan served up a full toss which Miandad, already unbeaten with 118 and in total command of the situation, pulled over the mid wicket fence to seal a famous victory.
Poor Chetan! He did accomplish a few notable things for India during his career. He was one of the stars of India’s series victory in England in 1986 and still remains the only Indian bowler to take ten wickets in a Test in England.
He was the first bowler to take a hat trick in the World Cup. He is one of the few Indian bowlers to take a wicket in his first over in a Test. He scored a breezy unbeaten hundred when sent in as a pinch hitter in the Nehru Cup match against England in 1989. But while these achievements may be remembered what is recalled most is the last ball six.
No excuses really but Chetan at the time was a rookie and was given charge of the last over due to a miscalculation by Kapil Dev who should have bowled the last over himself. In Ishant’s case he is anything but a rookie. He has been the pace spearhead for some time now and has had the benefit of six years of international cricket during which he has played 51 Tests and nearly 70 ODIs. Moreover he continues to make the same mistakes over and over again and this is what is difficult to digest.
It’s interesting now to go through some of the comments made by experts on Ishant shortly after he first created a major impression on the tour of Australia in 2007-08. The former Australian fast bowler Damien Fleming spoke of Ishant in the same breath as Glenn McGrath and said that if he remained injury free he could end up with 500 wickets like the great Aussie paceman.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting who was at the receiving end in his duels with the Indian pace spearhead compared him with South African paceman Makhaya Ntini. "With the angles he creates he can be pretty dangerous against left-handers as he swings the ball away from them, a bit like Ntini does" said Ponting. Steve Waugh hailed him as the next best thing in Indian cricket.
The legendary Richard Hadlee was another who was handsome in his praise for Ishant. "What I like about Ishant is that he has got a straight run to the wicket, uses his height well and has got good pace. He has a presence about him in the middle and has got admirable bowling skills. He moves the ball around and uses the reverse swing nicely. I would expect him to be right up there among the best fast bowlers in world cricket in the next five to ten years. The potential at the moment is very exciting," said Hadlee.
To be fair to Ishant, he has notched up some impressive achievements. On that tour of Australia when he first impressed with his pace and hostility he constantly sent down balls at 150 kmph. During the CB Series one delivery was timed at almost 153 kph making him the fastest Indian bowler of all time.
He played the star turn in the Test victory in the West Indies in 2011, bagging 22 wickets in the three Tests including his only ten-wicket haul. He has also an unexpected moment in the sun with the bat when he helped VVS Laxman in a ninth wicket partnership of 81 runs which resulted in India defeating Australia by one wicket at Mohali in 2010.
It may not be fair if after all this he is remembered derisively for THAT over. But like Chetan it is a cross that he will have to bear.