January 11, 2012

The truth about 'unlucky' Ishant

He is known to work hard on the field but not get the wickets he seemingly deserves. Harsh but true: it's because he doesn't bowl enough wicket-taking balls

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Ishant Sharma? I'm guessing it would be an image of a tall, young fast bowler coming off a long run-up ball after ball, giving his all for the team. It is this quality that impressed me on India's wretched tour of England, where Ishant ran in with great zest and bowled long spells the whole day, with intensity - all in a losing cause. When others around him were falling like ninepins, Ishant carried on gamely, day after day, showing the same passion for bowling in the last 20 minutes of the day as he did in the first 20.

Such bowlers, who are ready to do the hard yards for the team, are a boon to a captain. But there are bowlers of another kind that a captain would much prefer: bowlers who take wickets. This is where Ishant has proved a disappointment so far; for all his talent and commitment he just does not take enough wickets.

When I looked at Ishant's bowling record, it took me by surprise. Until recently I hadn't bothered to look at his numbers, for there was so much to like about Ishant on the field that it did not matter what was on paper.

Ishant has played 43 Tests at an average of 36.8. That's right, the bowler India keep looking at as a bright young prospect, expected to take over the leadership role from Zaheer Khan, has already played 43 Tests. Forty-three Tests makes you a seasoned Test player - a player for the present, not one for the future. It's time Indian cricket started looking at Ishant that way, expecting results from him today instead of tomorrow.

Let's now move to the other eye-catching number in his bowling record - the average. Bowling averages somehow never get as much media- and mind-space as batting averages do. When it comes to gauging the success of a player, it's simpler for fans to understand batting averages. To give you a very rough estimate of Ishant's bowling average in batting parlance: an average of 36 runs per wicket is about equal to averaging just under 35 per innings for a batsman. Would India be tolerant of a batsman who averaged around 35 after 43 Tests? Ishant's strike rate of 64.8 is also below par. This means he needs to bowl nearly 11 overs to get one wicket.

Granted, India are not spoilt for choice when it comes to seam bowlers, but that Ishant has generally been an automatic pick in the playing XI and his bowling returns are never a talking point suggests we have all been slightly swayed by his demeanour on the field. It is always "unlucky" Ishant, a bowler who deserves more wickets for his lion-hearted performance in the field. "Unlucky Ishant Sharma" has become his brandname in Indian cricket today.

But there is no such thing as an unlucky batsman or an unlucky bowler. Over a short span, yes, but if someone is an "unlucky" bowler over a long period of time, he is simply not bowling enough wicket-taking balls. And that is the simple truth about Ishant - he has just not bowled enough potential wicket-taking balls, and it reflects in his record.

An average of 36 runs per wicket is equal to averaging just under 35 per innings for a batsman. Would India be tolerant of a batsman who averaged around 35 after 43 Tests?

Following a good series in the West Indies, where he picked up 22 wickets, his dry run resumed in England. After Ishant had another fruitless day in the field in the recent home series against West Indies, I asked Courtney Walsh, a fellow panelist on a TV show, for his take on Ishant. Walsh also bowled the same genre of seam as Ishant does, and he made an observation about what prevented Ishant from being a more potent wicket-taking bowler: the head falling away at the time of delivery, and the uncertain position of the wrist behind the ball when he lets it go were his two main deficiencies, Walsh said. Of course, this is not the first time these aspects of Ishant's bowling have been pointed out, but it is sad to see that these two critical issues have remained largely unaddressed.

All fast bowlers will tell you that the head falling away sideways at the time of delivery kills much of the speed, especially when the ball is pitched up. It's an important reason why Ishant is never quick when he pitches the ball up, and why the yorker is not a real weapon for him. This, along with his wrist action - where the two fingers on the seam tend to slide away rather than remain behind the seam when the ball is released - greatly diminishes the movement he would otherwise get in the air and off the pitch, and the zip.

When he tries to get the ball into that full-length area, it just does not respond. It reacts better when it's pitched shorter, which is why he feels compelled to bowl that length. But when the ball is short you don't find the edges, the leg-befores and the bowleds, as often. And that is what makes Ishant an "unlucky" bowler in Indian cricket.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • KISH on January 14, 2012, 23:25 GMT

    Very nice analysis. It is a late assesment. It would have helped if Sanjay did this a while ago and told Ishant about it. Because, he hasn't been a wicket taking bowler for a long time. However, there is no way Ishant is ever going to be dropped from the Indian team (provided the selectors don't bring unnecessary surprises). He is the only positive that has happened to the Indian cricket for the past 4 years. Maybe we are witnessing another positive, Kohli, now.

  • surya on January 14, 2012, 19:21 GMT

    Ishanth is a pick of the worst lot and you can't expect more from him. The only unlucky person is dhoni.

  • Shashi on January 14, 2012, 18:42 GMT

    @ DebashisCalcutta...no my dear i just want to say that it's very easy to find fault in others game..every generation of cricketer do this n forget about their own game n shortcomings...sometimes it's look pathetic when arun lal talk about Dravid batting or nikhil chopra talks about harbhajan's bowling they forget about their own achievements it's easy to comment while sitting in a AC room but difficult to perform on the field. I just hate these kind of high talks from but given that opportunities which media is providing them every ex cricketer is coming with their expert comments. Sanjay Manjrekar talks about commitments ..he was one of the most selfish batsman i have seen very much like dinesh karthick once in a one day match he didn't sacrifice his own wicket for tendulkar involved in run out misunderstanding ..everone knows that in any day tendulkar is far better than sanjay...i hate these loose talks from ex players they should not forget what they have done in their playing days

  • Shakti on January 14, 2012, 17:44 GMT

    Brilliant article,a topic of which is of great importance to the future of Indian cricket.Ishant Sharma just does not bowl accurately enough to consistently cause problems.Ishant get a delivery or two each over that could create pressure but it is often followed up by a delivery on the pads or a high bouncer.Umesh Yadav took 5 wickets today but his economy was 5 as well,unless the Indian bowlers tighten their lines & lengths,they will spend many more long days out in the summer sun all over the world.

  • Dummy4 on January 14, 2012, 16:45 GMT

    If bowler like vinay kumar can play for India, then Ishant deserves to bowl even though he does not pick wicket.

  • Umar on January 14, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    @ Vaibhav my friend your famed indian batting line up is only good at bashing oppositions on home soil. this tour of australia is the umpteenth time your batting line up has flopped against seam swing and bounce. and just to remind you Pakistan has one of the best fast bowlers currently playing for them who cant make the ball dance on dead wickets too. I dont think you saw how we bowled on UAE wickets against sri lanka. and even in the semi final, which too was played on a dead flat wicket, we managed to stop you at 260. so i say bring it on. the Karachi test where irfan pathan took a hat-trick is yet another proof of how vulnerable you batters are on seaming pitches. Therefore i suggest you advice ur cricket board to make your players learn how to play swing and bounce before saying u can just bash our bowling like anything.

  • Nathan on January 14, 2012, 3:09 GMT

    Sharma would be better served in this test just to shut up and let his bowling do the talking. Except his bowling seems to have nothing to say. Sledging only works if it unsettles or even intimidates the opposition ... whereas Warner would be struggling not to laugh in Sharma's face when he mouths off.

  • Nathan on January 14, 2012, 3:09 GMT

    Sharma would be better served in this test just to shut up and let his bowling do the talking. Except his bowling seems to have nothing to say. Sledging only works if it unsettles or even intimidates the opposition ... whereas Warner would be struggling not to laugh in Sharma's face when he mouths off.

  • Dummy4 on January 14, 2012, 3:03 GMT

    Ishant not bowling wicket taking balls is a diplomatic way of saying he is not good enough...We miss Pravin Kumar...

  • Mick on January 13, 2012, 14:17 GMT

    Ishant didn't do much on a day one Perth pitch Yougander ... and it is the bounciest pitch in Aust - if he don't take wickets in this test, he ain't taking wickets anywhere ..... also, might serve him better to BOWL rather than CHAT with opposition batsmen ...

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