Crunch Time

Ishant Sharma: 'I'd never heard fat percentages being discussed in the team before Virat'

Ishant Sharma on perplexing his mother by giving up milk, his new-found love of coffee, and how Virat Kohli revolutionised fitness in the Indian team

Ishant Sharma licks the ball during training session, Dambulla International Cricket stadium, Dambulla, Colombo, January 27, 2009

Part of a fast bowler's staple diet  •  Getty Images

In Crunch Time we look for more literal answers to the age old question - what fuels a cricketer?
Do you have a favourite meal? What do you like to eat most often during the week?
When I am on tour, I love to eat sushi, because I love Japanese food. At home generally I love to eat whatever my mom makes for me. But I get really happy if she makes rajma chawal. I'm a big fan of that.
In the 2020 IPL, we heard you became a black coffee convert.
(Laughs) Yeah, I did. It tastes amazing, actually. Harshal Patel [Haryana fast bowler] introduced me to that. I've become a coffee person now. I have started researching on Wikipedia. I look for which coffees are good, which are dark, light… all those things I read about.
Like in every Indian middle-class family, my parents wake up and have a big glass of chai along with bread. That is their breakfast. Previously when I would come down after waking up, my mom would ask, "Should I make tea for you?" I would say yes. Now, when I walk down with a big jug of black coffee, my mother is like: "What are you drinking? What happened to you?" I've told her that I am lactose intolerant. She does not understand what that means. I told her I am allergic to milk. She's like, "Leh, for 30 years you drank milk and in two years you have grown allergic to milk!"
Have you made her taste black coffee?
My mother doesn't want to. My father does drink coffee, but not without milk.
So all these years you did not enjoy black coffee?
While playing I used to drink it, but not at home. But now without having a black coffee I can't even get up.
Who is the coffee specialist in the Indian dressing room?
Everyone, actually. Even Virat [Kohli] drinks a lot of coffee. Jinks [Ajinkya Rahane] used to come to my room during the IPL. Ash [R Ashwin] came to my room, too.
Which cricket venue has the best catering and food?
Lord's. Their cheesecakes are amazing.
That's not cheating on your diet?
While playing you can eat it, because you burn it in the course of a Test match. It is when you are not playing that you have to worry about what you are eating and not.
Do you go out in Delhi to eat?
I just go to the restaurants mostly for sushi.
Which cricketer you know is the best cook?
Varun Aaron, Ashok Dinda, both are good cooks.
What do you like to cook for yourself?
I can make scrambled eggs, omelette type stuff. During the lockdown [in 2020], I tried making healthy sweets with coconut milk, peanut butter, chocolate chips... ice cream as well. My parents like them too.
Are fast bowlers allowed fast food?
Nobody says don't eat it, but because you are playing for the country, it is your job [to watch what you eat] and especially after crossing 30, it is better that you don't eat fast food.
What's a typical meal for you at lunch during a Test match?
I try and eat carbs. I'll have dal and rice along with boiled potatoes. That gives energy.
Does that change during the IPL when you play in the evenings?
While playing I don't like having a full stomach, because that makes me feel heavy and lazy.
What's a favourite post-workout snack? What goes into your workout smoothie?
While playing I just have a normal protein shake. If I have normal lunch then I just have water, but if I haven't had lunch, I will add nuts, almond milk, banana and protein.
I believe you recently became a vegetarian?
Yes, two and a half years ago.
What was the hardest food to give up as part of your fitness regimen?
Chole bhature. The last time I had it was during the lockdown but that was homemade. I asked my mom to make it with olive oil.
It must have tasted different?
Obviously, but how do you stop your craving? It was during a phase when we did not know when we were playing next.
Is there a snack you always carry in your kit bag when touring?
Just protein bars and protein powder.
Who is the one person in the Indian team who can eat anything without it affecting their fitness?
Right now, Navdeep Saini. Have you seen how he's built? He can eat anything. When I was young, till about 25, I was eating anything. It was only after that I realised I needed to bring in a change in my eating to conserve my energy to bowl long spells and stay fresh during the training.
Has Kohli converted you or have you converted him in food habits?
No, but he set an example for everyone, for sure. Take the case of fat percentage - before him I had never heard of it being spoken about in the Indian team. It was totally about skill. But now, along with skill, it is also about fitness. So if you eat well, you stay strong in the field, maintain your fitness, your energy. After what he did for himself, it totally changed the system in the Indian cricket team.
Your wife is an athlete too. Has she changed your eating habits?
No, no. She loves eating. Having said that, although she has stopped playing, she does keep tabs on what she eats. Except when she is in Banaras [Varanasi], her hometown, where she can't control eating sweets.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo