It is difficult to imagine what Ishant Sharma would have thought to himself after the news broke through that Jasprit Bumrah won’t be available for the upcoming Test series against South Africa on account of injury.
He may have exclaimed “oh no” as we all know what significance Bumrah has for the other bowlers in the team, especially pacers. Bumrah is an out-and-out wicket-taker but even if at times he doesn’t get wickets, he keeps his end so tight that often bowlers at the other end reap benefits of his mastery with the ball.
Or maybe Ishant thought that this was a big opportunity for him to stand out and prove he deserved a better treatment from fans.
The gangling fast bowler is close on 300 Test wickets, just 22 behind to be precise. That’s no small feat, all the more when one considers he will be only the third Indian fast bowler ever in history to reach the 300-mark, after Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan.
Despite having played important roles in quite a few Indian Test wins, Ishant never got his dues in terms of acknowledgment from fans. Why? Largely, because he was inconsistent. On his day, he could make even the greatest of batsmen look ordinary — as he did to Ricky Ponting in what was his just second Test series as a rookie fast bowler.
But on most days he bowled as if he didn’t know what he was doing, his faculties seemed to cast him adrift. There would be countless full length deliveries when you expected him to bowl good length. Another case... as many as eight fielders are on the off side eagerly anticipating action and Ishant bowls an innocuous full-toss or throws down straight into the batsman’s legs and concedes a boundary just like that.
Be that as it may, what got Ishant this far was his persistence; his attitude of not giving up. Some bowlers like Zaheer put brain into their bowling and make it seem like an art even though there is more of science, bowlers like Ishant put effort into their bowling and his longevity and record suggest that ain’t bad after all.
There was a time when failures in limited overs cricket got to him and it affected his Test bowling too. Yes shortly after he was out of the reckoning across all formats, his weight went up like Chandrayaan-2 and landing within the popping crease became a serious issue. Besides he fell out of favour with the IPL teams and when an Indian international fails to make it to an IPL squad, the signal normally is he is done and dusted.
But Ishant bucked himself up. Taking his mind completely off white-ball cricket, he trained his eyes on Tests, lost weight and began his revival.
In his last 15 Tests, he has taken 60 wickets and ever since Bumrah’s Test debut early last year he has taken 52 wickets in 13 Tests. During this period he has been behind Jasprit’s 62 wickets in 12 games and Mohammed Shami’s 58 wickets in 15 games (but then Shami played three more games).
It’s clear Ishant has been a significant contributor.
But now Ishant won’t have Bumrah’s assistance at the other end. Same holds true for Shami. Ishant and Shami now have to fend for each other on extremely spin-friendly pitches and fast bowlers’ graveyards.
As to who is India’s best pacer today, there are no doubts whatsoever it’s King Bumrah who is a bowler for all seasons. For the second spot, Shami appears to be pipping Ishant presently but who knows that situation may change a little after the series, since we know how persistence has worked wonders for Ishant.
At 31, he doesn't have much time. The clock is ticking fast for him to endear himself to fans. This is the best chance to grab. Opportunities like this don't come often. If not now, it will probably never be for Ishant.