Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo
Ishant Sharma's career started on a strong note after he got the India call-up when just 18. He troubled more than one batsman away in Australia, and was effective in home conditions as well. But it started to go downhill after that, the ride largely a bumpy one. But, ten years on, Ishant has finally hit a peak, and since 2018, he has been one of India's premier Test bowlers.
Ishant's career has had an interesting progression graph.
In his first 11 Tests, he took 34 wickets at an average of 31.17 and a strike rate of 57.3. This remains Ishant's best average to date. After a long, hard grind, his average fell back below 35 for the first time only in mid-2018. He was the second slowest to 250 Test wickets (86 Tests) and while more or less regular in the Test XI, was never quite first choice.
Between 2010 and 2017, Ishant played 60 Tests and took 172 wickets at an average of 37.22, striking once every 68 deliveries. However, fortunes turned after that. At the start of 2018, India played Jasprit Bumrah in the first Test against South Africa in Cape Town. Ishant did get his chance in the second Test in Centurion, though, and bowled a crucial spell late on the first day to trigger a collapse by dismissing AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis. Since then, he hasn't looked back, playing 13 Tests for 52 wickets at an outstanding average of 19.78.
Ishant's average in this period is better than that of Kagiso Rabada, James Anderson, Trent Boult, Stuart Broad and Josh Hazlewood. With all the limelight on Bumrah, Ishant has slipped under the radar somewhat, but his average, strike rate and economy rate are at par with those of Bumrah since the start of 2018. Along with Mohammed Shami, Ishant and Bumrah form a potent pace attack that has been doing exceedingly well around the world over the last two years.
Line and length
Since 2018, Ishant has also been more successful bowling full in favourable conditions, and his new-found ability to swing the ball and pitch it consistently in one area has resulted in a lot of success. Between 2015 and 2017, Ishant took a wicket once every 64 full-length deliveries. But since 2018, he has been striking once every 26 times he pitches it up.
Ishant's line over the last two years has helped him achieve this. Between 2015 and 2017, he bowled only 47% of his deliveries outside the off stump, while since 2018, this has gone up to 60%. At the same time, between 2015 and 2017, 16% of deliveries were bowled wide outside off stump, but since 2018, this has gone down to 7%. Ishant has made the batsmen play more and this has helped in getting more wickets than he used to earlier.
Over the last couple of years, right-arm pacers have been bowling around the wicket to left-hand batsmen with a fair amount of success. Ishant has done so too, and made it work. His average against left-handed batsmen from around the wicket is 21, while over the wicket, it's 30.
Along the way, Ishant has also racked up a few records. He has the most wickets outside Asia among Indians, behind only Anil Kumble. Thanks to his longevity, and the success India has had overseas recently, Ishant has 20 wins away from home. This is joint second-highest along with Sachin Tendulkar. Only Rahul Dravid has more. Ishant has racked up some good numbers in these away wins, which underscores his impact. He averages 23.50 and strikes once every 46 deliveries, which is 17 less than his career rate.
As the leader of the attack, it will be interesting to see how Ishant goes in the upcoming season as he approaches a rare landmark of playing 100 Tests as an Indian pace bowler - only Kapil Dev has achieved it before him.