October 23, 2013

The issue with Ishant

The fact that his wrist is not behind the ball and the seam doesn't come out upright speak volumes

Let me start with a disclaimer: I've been a huge Ishant Sharma fan, right from the day I saw him bowl in a Ranji Trophy one-dayer years ago. It was rare to see an Indian fast bowler as tall as that. He also had the perfect high-arm action and a solid wrist behind the ball.

His height offered him extra bounce off the surface, and the ball almost always came out of his hand with the seam upright, which allowed him immense control. Such was his mastery over his line that we at Delhi could give him a 7-2 off-side field and the chances were he would not go for a single boundary off the legs throughout the day.

He was barely out of his teens then, but it was quite evident that this lad would almost certainly play for the country, for he had potential and promise. Besides the obvious physical advantages, his mind seemed perfectly primed for the job: he simply loved bowling. Ishant would never shy away from bowling long hours in the nets. He was the first to raise his hand if the captain needed some overs, even towards the end of a long day.

So I wasn't surprised one bit when he bowled that magical spell to Ricky Ponting in Perth. Ishant went on to bowl many such probing spells, especially when India toured overseas. He wasn't the typical Indian swing bowler - more the sort of hit-the-deck-hard bowler who was likely to get purchase off hard and bouncy Australian and South African pitches.

Ishant stood out on another count - he typically bowled slightly short of a good length. If one can get steep bounce, along with some sideways movement, as Ishant used to, both ways, success can almost be taken for granted.

However, as he progressed in his international career - and he progressed much faster than many of his age - his wrist started to defy his commands. It was no longer willing to stay behind the ball every time he bowled, and that meant the seam was rarely upright on release. If the seam is wobbling at the point of release, it's improbable that the ball will land on the seam, which in turn means negligible lateral movement off the deck. The extra bounce, which was his best ally, lost its sting because the predictability of length coupled with the lack of lateral movement off the surface allowed batsmen to ride the bounce.

Ishant could still bowl some probing spells on days when his wrist didn't fall, or when, by some stroke of luck, the ball landed on the seam more often than not. I distinctly remember his spell to Mahela Jayawardene on a docile Sri Lankan pitch, in which he made one of the world's finest batsmen dance to his tune. Unfortunately those spells were few and far between.

Even when Ishant was far from his best, MS Dhoni kept faith in him, for he was still one of the few who would readily bowl 18 or 20 overs in a Test match day. There are bowlers who are there to take wickets and then there are the ones who the captain wants in his side, for you need workhorses if you are to get through 90 overs in a day. Not that the latter variety are not expected to take wickets, but they are allowed to take fewer than the rest; that's part of the bargain.

In the last six months things have taken a turn for the worse, for Ishant has seemingly almost stopped even attempting to bowl with the seam upright. When a fast bowler ceases to deliver the ball with the seam upright, you know his confidence is at its lowest ebb. Sacrificing the upright seam and its benefits is usually part of a bid to gain more control, but ironically control is also a matter of confidence. If you aren't 100% sure of where the ball is going to land, chances are, more often than not it won't land where you want it to.

Ishant's lack of confidence in his ability to put the ball in the desired spots was clearly visible in that 30-run over. But while post-match analyses wrote him off, and the next morning's newspapers carried obituaries, not many attempted to deconstruct those infamous six balls.

When a fast bowler ceases to deliver the ball with the seam upright, you know his confidence is at its lowest ebb. Sacrificing the upright seam and its benefits is usually part of a bid to gain more control, but ironically control is also a matter of confidence

Ball one: Long-on and long-off were on the fence, and Ishant attempted a yorker. The ball ended up two feet outside off and at least a couple short of the blockhole. Faulkner dispatched it for four over covers.

Ball two: Ishant brought mid-off inside the circle, which meant that he had to bowl a short ball, and he did. Just that Faulkner was ready for it and hit a six.

Ball three: Ishant brought third man and fine leg inside the circle, and had long-on and long-off on the fence. The only place to bowl was full and within the stumps. Another attempted yorker missed its spot by a good few feet and went for a six over his head.

Ball four: Not knowing what to do, Ishant bowled a length ball. Most times, bowling a length ball in the death overs is a sin, but he got away with only two runs this time.

Balls five and six: Ishant had one fielder on the fence on the off side, long-off, and three on the on side. He had two options to choose from: one, a yorker within the stumps, or two, a short ball to the body. He chose the latter and gave away two more sixes. Which raises the point that if that was what he wanted to do, he should have brought long-off inside the circle and sent fine leg to the fence. With fine leg inside the circle it was not prudent to dig it in too short, for even a top edge would go over the infield. And there was very little chance of a bouncer being hit over the mid-off fielder.

Unfortunately, Ishant couldn't deliver good old yorkers, conventional or slower bouncers, or changes of pace with precision under pressure.

I've not come across many players who are as hard-working as Ishant is, and it saddens me that he is not learning from his mistakes - or perhaps the lessons aren't being conveyed to him accurately. He is only 25 and it's not too late for him to go back to the basics of keeping the wrist steady and attempting to release the ball with the seam upright. The rest is bound to fall in place.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dal on October 28, 2013, 19:01 GMT

    i dont think he is good enough.....

  • Dummy4 on October 28, 2013, 11:48 GMT

    Lack of commitment as some of the readers have pointed out is the last thing one can associate with Ishant. That said I am no great fan of his bowling. Over the years he seems to have developed some bad habits and is struggling to get out of the mess. To me his wrist position is more of symptom than a reason. His run up strides have gone longer than desired at the point of delivery as consequence he is no longer releasing the ball well balanced. Having being penalized for few times for running on the pitch.Trying to avoid that mistake he could be swaying away a tad early. As a result his head could be falling away and wrist trying to correct the ball release timing. Unlike batting, mistiming in bowling is not forgiving and especially in shorter version of the game, where you have to be always within the restricted bowling areas. It is easy as an arm chair critic to point out possible challenges, but key is we want Ishant to be back in the reckoning as Indian Cricket needs a workhorse

  • Shwetank on October 28, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    It's not, as backed up by Akash in this article, that Ishant is not capable. It's more that he seems to be lacking is discipline or commitment to bowling in the right places. His decreasing of pace over the years means, like many Indian bowlers, he needs more focused attention on accuracy (case in point Bhuv Kumar). At 130km/h, bowling short and wide at waist high is almost always going to cop significant pounding (esp in this age of T20 skilled batsmen). Ishant needs time in the nets, and needs to focus on accuracy. Also, he needs to pitch the ball up, as short pitched stuff is clearly not his forte (or at least not any more).

  • Shiv on October 27, 2013, 16:36 GMT

    The most astounding thing is what is the bowling coach doing. It seems like everyone knows what the issue is, we heard it on commentary, read it in papers, online that even ordinary fans know what the issue is, except for the bowling coach.

  • Srinivas on October 27, 2013, 5:31 GMT

    The main problem with Ishant is that he is a terrible bowler. Next, as somebody else pointed out, look at the threads around his bowling wrist. They are increasing in number by the day. The bling around his neck and that worst hair. I'm sure, even a coach at school level cricket would kick him out from the sport, not just from the squad, without any hesitation. Here we are, burning our midnight oil discussing about a terrible, superstition ridden, unprofessional bowler! Is it ok if your superstition ridden doctor comes to the operating table with lots and lots of threads around his dominant hand to perform a surgery that demands meticulous precision? Why are we letting this terrible bowler Ishant get away with all this? Running in hard and practicing hard - even after all of that he is not able to make life difficult for the batsmen. What does that tell you? It tells me that he is a terrible bowler. The main problem with Ishant is that he is a terrible bowler. Case closed.

  • Ashok on October 26, 2013, 15:10 GMT

    Excellent analysis of Ishant's strengths, Akaash! With his height, one would expect him to be the top prospect. When you say that Ishant's folly in not holding the seam upright at the time of delivery is the principal reason for his erratic bowling, why don't the Coaches' work on making him correct that deficiency. Until he corrects it & gets the desired results in the Nets, he should not play for India & lose his confidence. I feel that Ishant should also work on pitching the ball at the right spots w.r.t. length & direction. The upright seam aids in movement off the pitch- NOT control runs. Ishant has taken a fancy for short balls which on Indian pitches is asking for punishment. I don't know if you heard of R.B."Bumper" Desai of Bombay- 5'-4", 28" chest & <120 lbs. He opened the bowling for India in 60's & had a lethal bumper just short of length & got many wkts with it in Tests. If Ishant cannot bowl a bumper like Desai's, he should avoid short balls & focus on length & direction.

  • Dummy4 on October 26, 2013, 11:28 GMT

    Its like a kid in class does not attend any classes and suddenly appears for the exam , most probably he will end up failing, its the case of Ishant Sharma. Its better to put him in coaching classes, if still he is not performing then he must be throw him out of the side...Give the another young kid a chance.

  • THIYAGARAJAN on October 26, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    Right now he needs to change his bowling style that he does in the past[2008].He needs sometime to get back .

  • AJay on October 25, 2013, 12:21 GMT

    I keep on emphasising - India very desperatly need a GOOD bowling coach. Even the stongest batting sides have had batting coaches so why not a bowling coach for a very weak bowling attack. The WI in their heyday had a devastating bowling foursome. Even Australia, more recently, began their decline when McGrath and Warnie's powers began to abate or were out. So, without any doubt India needs a much improved bowling attack and you cannot just pick new players out of the hat. Hire a bowling coach who not only improves the effectiveness of present players but works out a programme of ensuring there will always be good bowlers in the pipeline.

  • Rahul on October 25, 2013, 11:08 GMT

    Whiel Ishant clearly seems to have an issue with his wrist position as Akaash astutely points out, i suspect his issue with length is not dissimilar to that of Srinath's. Srinath was a terrific bowler and whenever he pitched it up just a tad, he was incredible. Why he didnt do it more often often escapes me! It could have something to do with natural length with both him and now Ishant. Could also be that they are concerned about losing their bounce by pitching it up - especially on the lower bouncing Indian pitches. Problem is that they then get vulnerable sqaure of the wicket since they dont have express pace or movement off the wicket. If Ishant cant get his wrist right he may as well call it a day.