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Ishant Sharma: Indian cricket's Mr Inconsistent!

July 25, 2014 12:36 IST

Ishant Sharma: Indian cricket's Mr Inconsistent!

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Joel Rai

Some say the lanky cricketer is an enigma, but most swear that Ishant Sharma is the country's best death bowler ("because he can kill India from any position").

On July 21, jokesters, of course, held their peace. As England lost six wickets for 50 runs at Lord's to lose the second Test against India, Sharma, who bagged five wickets that afternoon for a total of seven in the innings, became the toast of India.

For a country that has woefully little to show in the pace department over 82 years of Test cricket, a 6-feet 4-inch bowler who has bowled a few 152-kmph scorchers should have been an object of deification, not the butt of barbs.

But in the seven years of playing in India colours, Sharma, who will be 26 in September, has frustrated the fans, his team and the selectors more than he has made them smile.

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Image: Ishant Sharma
Photographs: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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Sharma inexplicably lost his pace, and the short-of- good-length deliveries

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Joel Rai

The shaggy-maned Sharma from Patel Nagar in New Delhi, son of an air-conditioner repair shop owner, promised much when he began his career at the age of 19. On the 2007-08 tour of Australia, his second series, he bowled with fire, leaving an in-form Ricky Ponting looking like a heavy-handed construction worker trying out for the Bolshoi's ballet troupe.

The speed gun repeatedly caught his seamers in the high 140 kmph range. The fans loved Sharma, and the selectors patted themselves for having thrown him into the deep end despite his tender years.

But the honeymoon did not last. Sharma inexplicably lost his pace, and the short-of- good-length deliveries that had made batsmen jump became, at 130 kmph, balls to be whacked to the fence.

His childhood coach, Shrawan Kumar, felt that the national team's bowling coach then, Venkatesh Prasad, had tampered with the six-footer's natural style, making him sacrifice pace for line and length.

Yet, it was line and length that abandoned the bowler. Punters had a field day, saying Sharma's line and length lay only in his hair, a reference to the shoulder-length style that he has favoured all through his national career.

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Image: Ishant Sharma (left) celebrates dismissing Ben Stokes
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

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Sharma's inconsistency is legendary

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Joel Rai

A more reasonable explanation for what happened to the bowler might be deduced from captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's post-match comments at Lord's. Dhoni said that he wanted Sharma to bowl short on a pitch of dicey bounce, but the pacer had apparently demurred and had to be coaxed a few times by Dhoni to try out that strategy.

Clearly, Sharma does not read the situation well, neither the pitch nor the batsmen's weaknesses.

Sharma's inconsistency is legendary. Who can forget those two wickets against England in the Champion's Trophy in 2013 that won India the final when the Englishmen were just 28 runs away from victory?

But then, equally, who can forget the 30 runs that he conceded in a single over to Australia in October 2013, making his detractors smirk that only Sharma, of all bowlers, could reverse swing a match?

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Image: Ishant Sharma
Photographs: Philip Brown/Reuters

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'Only my teammates have belief in me'

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Joel Rai

His inconsistency peaked at Wellington against New Zealand earlier this year. As India's lead bowler, with Zaheer Khan only an elderly presence, Sharma blew the opponents apart with a handsome 6/51 in the first innings. Capitalising on this, India took a 246 run lead and looked forward to a rare win abroad. In the second innings, the bowler lamely gave away 164 runs without taking a wicket. Could India have won the match?

Sharma has the work ethic (his teammates and coaches testify to his willingness to work hard and long), the height of a fast bowler and a bowling action that should get him a bagful of wickets.

But in 57 Tests, he has captured just 174 wickets. Even an unsung bowler like Peter Siddle of Australia has done better with 188 wickets in 53 Tests. More important, Sharma's wickets have come at an average of over 37, the highest among those who have bowled in 50 Tests and more.

At Lord's, Sharma grinned widely through his gum line as he received the Man of the Match. "Only my teammates have belief in me," he said ruefully.

All he has to do to make everyone believe in him is to use his grey cells and his inherent skills to bowl consistently.


Image: Ishant Sharma
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

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