July 16, 2014

Ishant lurches from hero to villain

Disaster may lurk and comedy may come, but Ishant Sharma brings a wholeheartedness to his team that should be valued above stats

Ishant Sharma: quite a wide gap between his best and his worst © Getty Images

It had to be Ishant, didn't it? As the Trent Bridge track turned the final moments of the first Test between England and India into a comedy, he provided the punchline to Alastair Cook's slapstick spell by surrendering his wicket to a man who cannot buy a lucky break at the moment, who was not only bowling terrible rubbish but had been doing an impression to amuse his team-mates.

Ishant trailed back to the pavilion with the joyful, disbelieving whoops of the England players in his ears, reflecting no doubt that, once again, the game had chosen to rain down upon him.

Sure enough, google his name and the second suggestion to come up is "Ishant Sharma jokes". The results include: "21 Oct 2013... Ishant Sharma's 'miracle' 30-run over against Australia in the third ODI led to an avalanche of jokes on the internet" (MSN); "13 Feb 2014 ... IPL 7 Auction: Ishant Sharma jokes are trending on Twitter" (cricketcountry.com); "4 April 2013 Check out the 30 best jokes on Ishant Sharma" (IPLWA.com).

His career, which has seen him lurch wildly from hero to villain and back again across the course of 56 Tests and 72 one-day internationals offers plenty of ammo to keyboard warriors: the Test bowling average of 37.79, the highest of any bowler ever with more than 50 caps; being pasted all over Mohali by James Faulkner in that infamous 30-run over; his disintegrating relationship with the speed gun that once clocked him at 152kph, etc etc.

Even so, all cricketers have bad days and barren patches. It is the nature of the game to be fickle to its participants - it's practically the only guarantee that it gives. Very, very few of the elite have ability at such a high level that it exempts them from all but the very occasional ignominy. For the rest of us, from Test match cricketers down to the most humble of fourth-XI occasionals, it has varying degrees of disaster in store.

Ishant's share of that disaster happens before the eyes of the world. In a land that worships batting like no other, he is a fast bowler. Not only that, he is a beanpole, towering above legends like Tendulkar and Dhoni by a foot or more, the effect exaggerated by the greatest hairdo since David Coverdale led Whitesnake to the top of the US charts in 1987. His sheer visibility has an effect, so does the cosmic accident of having to make his mistakes in an era when social media transmits every detail in an instant, when barely a game goes untelevised or unrecorded. Not only will no one miss them, they can be endlessly relived at the touch of a keyboard, passed around forever. And once a reputation is made, it is difficult to remould into anything else, as any spin doctor will tell you.

But what established this caricature? Ishant is a player with quite a wide gap between his best and his worst, and he also began his career explosively, bowling at high pace and discomforting Ricky Ponting at the height of his powers. He was almost setting himself up for disappointment, and the knowledge of what he is capable of has dogged him through the harder times.

There is a slightly offbeat but I think valid comparison to be made with Andrew Flintoff here. Like Flintoff, a bowler of similar height, Ishant has been at his most effective when whacking the pitch short of a length, but as Flintoff discovered, it's a length that beats the bat without producing lots of wickets. Fred had just three five-wicket bags across the 137 Test innings in which he bowled; Ishant has five (Flintoff took four 11 times, in comparison to Ishant's seven across 98 innings). Varying from that length often resulted in more expensive spells, too.

Nonetheless, Ishant has had his moments, and they have been tantalising. He is unperturbed by dead wickets, and it was his excellent spell that precipitated England's first-innings collapse at Trent Bridge. Like Steve Harmison, another player who had quite a wide margin between his best and worst, once Ishant gets a sniff, he can suddenly catch fire.

He is still only 25, but it's probably fair to say that things won't change too much now. He is not going to wake up one morning and become Glenn McGrath, and yet there is something cherishable about him. In an era when the classic subcontinental wicket seems to be spreading across the globe (witness not just Trent Bridge but Sabina Park) fast bowling is only going to get harder and averages higher.

To have someone willing to throw himself into the fray when the odds are against him gives Ishant a value above stats. Disaster may lurk and comedy may come, but he is bringing wholeheartedness to his team, and, one way or another, he is enlivening this series.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kuldeep on July 18, 2014, 10:00 GMT

    I agree with everything Jon Hotten has said, I think his lack of consistency to some extent has to be blamed on his captain and management not guiding him in the right direction. India can use someone like Dennis Lille, Richard Hadlee, Wasim Akram or Bruce Reid as a consultant on a full time basis.

  • anup on July 17, 2014, 12:55 GMT

    @Gerry :)..yeah thats what I basically meant to say!

  • GV on July 17, 2014, 10:47 GMT

    Anup20 - Ishant cannot be inconsistent as well as ineffective for a long period of time. He has been consistently ineffective is probably what you mean.

  • Dummy4 on July 17, 2014, 9:10 GMT

    I got nothing against him... Just one fact.... He did not earn his return to the INDIAN SIDE... He stayed in it because of DHONi... If he can genuinely earn his return... then.... Yes... things will be different.

  • imran on July 17, 2014, 8:39 GMT

    he is the worst bowler ever to play 50+ tests....if he had been from any other country he would've been dropped 5 years back

  • sam on July 16, 2014, 22:19 GMT

    Love the final sentence about I shant bringing an excitement into the series ,1 way or other. Bet a few Eng batsmen,not least of all captain himself will be equally excited,too!-:)

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2014, 15:04 GMT

    Ishant is turning out to be another Munaf Patel who started with a bang so much so that some people called him the Indian version of Rawalpindi Express (Shoaib Akhtar) but turned out to be a pedestrian bowler bowling just above military medium pace. So has been the case with Ishant Sharma who after starting high with bowling speed hovering around the 150 kph mark and giving a tough time to Ricky pointing often getting him out bowled, has now been bowling around the 130 kph mark which has proved ineffective many a times even on the hard bouncy pitch.

  • anup on July 16, 2014, 13:37 GMT

    He has been pretty inconsistent and ineffective for a long period of time which is why I find it quite strange that he is still in the team and more so called the leader of the bowling attack!..He doesnt even deserve a place in the India A side..he needs to get back to domestic cricket and prove his performance over a couple of years before coming back into the fray for national selection..He has the talent, but he needs to prove it with consistent performances on the domestic circuit...he is an absolute burden on the team currently..

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2014, 13:29 GMT

    O come on we need quality. Indian bowling stats in terms of averages in tests & averages & E/R in ODI are at par with Ban. Consequently avg scores vs Ind r equal to those vs Ban Zim Ken. This state of affairs for Indian bowling is not new. Its been there since 1999 WC & is only worsening gradually. Blaming pitches, giving credit to opposition's batting, lack of tour games are all cases of poor craftsman blaming his tools.

    Since Indian batsmen are v good and pile up huge totals, at high avg & S/R vs oppositions strong bowling. This gives illusion of pitches on which Ind plays being batting friendly.

    Check stats to reveal that avg team totals on so called flat Indian pitches is 230 for non Indian matches, which is even lower than on world's other grounds

  • Vinod on July 16, 2014, 13:02 GMT

    Firstly Thanks Jon for a fantastic read. I always felt IS had too big a tag hanging on his young shoulders. He is alwyas gonna be the workhorse Courtney walsh kinda bowler. To expect him to run in and knock 6 or 7 over a la waqar, steyn etc is improbable. The sad part is he has pathetic excuses of collegues as bowlers and the focus on him is magnified manifold. He is forced to try hardest to be the man he really is not-ie an out and out aggro maniac sledging away to all and sundry and the bowler he really is not -ie a wicket taking one. I feel he can really add value by working out his gaame, he needs to pitch it up more, try and get the batsman on the drive......if he can do that consistently, he can swing it and be effective....else he gonna join the long list of indian pacemen wannabe's...i do feel he is a decent chappie, has a happy go lucky streak and still has it in himself to endear himself and also be world class....Wishing ishant good luck and kudos to jon...keep em coming:)