Balancing a lanky frame on roller foam isn’t easy, but Ishant Sharma, 6’4’’, manages that as he moves back and forth to tone up the back and hamstring, bearing pain in wrists and ankles. The left ankle, operated upon four years ago, hurts the most.
It’s been three weeks since he came down with chikungunya. The vector-borne disease has left its imprint — painful joints.
Over the past 18 months, the paceman has worked on strengthening his body to prevent frequent break downs. But just when he felt he was getting there, mosquitoes gate-crashed his season.
It’s interesting that on the third day of training post recovery he is wearing shorts. He had advised people against that to avoid mosquito bites. “Chikungunya is terrible. Fever can touch 105 degrees. It doesn’t hurt at that time, but as fever abates, it leaves aching joints.”
ROAD TO RECOVERY
It spoiled his plans for a long run in a domestic season involving 13 Tests. Four days before the first Test against New Zealand at Kanpur, he was simulating match conditions by bowling five overs each in the morning, afternoon and evening, topped up by running. That was when the fever shot up.
His friend Rajeev Mahajan, a former player with whom Ishant runs an academy at the DDA Sports Complex in Vasant Kunj, rushed him to a private hospital.
“I was in the hospital for three days before the temperature dropped.”
He now bowls off a short run-up. Every now and then he takes a sip of water, monitors the kids training around him and again measures his run up. “My target is Test match fitness. If it were ODIs or T20Is, a little bit of work would have sufficed. For a Test, you have to be in the field for 90 overs and then if your turn to bowl comes again the next day, you have to bowl. You have to prepare to bowl 20 overs and field. That demands fitness.”
For someone used to starting afresh after injuries, this is the latest. He did the hard yards after missing last year’s World Cup due to injury, and clicked in Sri Lanka. He’d developed strength after being injury prone. The West Indies tour too was good. But he is concerned the inactivity because of chikungunya can erode the muscles.
Fitness built through power weightlifting, a relatively new training method to harness explosive energy that fast bowlers need, has seemingly begun to decline.
“My first objective is to get to the level at which I can do power weightlifting. It is something the India team trainer emphasises on. We did weightlifting but this is a level above that. A pace bowler needs quick power, explosive power. To get that, the base needs to be strong.”
And there are few better fitness role models than tennis ace Novak Djokovic, whose gluten-free diet has spawned a trend. India cricket players too are converts. “Gluten slows you down and we have been told to avoid it. The entire team is on a gluten-free diet. Look, everyone knows cricket, but little adjustments like these make a difference.”
These aren’t the only reasons why Ishant has clicked in Tests in recent times. “Maybe you can say I was fresh, I had worked hard. Before that (Sri Lanka series) I hadn’t played much. Even now, before West Indies, I hadn’t played much. But I wouldn’t want to play sparingly. As long as I am fit, I’ll play all formats.”
On the 2014 tour of New Zealand, some expletives he uttered were caught by the microphone and transmitted to living rooms. There was speculation about the intended target. Ishant clarified: “I uttered those words to myself. I had been bowling well and suddenly strayed. Sometimes you get frustrated with yourself. But international cricket over nine years has taught me patience. Your performance will dip. Injuries, part of every sportsman’s life, will happen. But how you come out of it is important. It depends on your character.”
THE SENIOR PRO
Now that Zaheer Khan, the ‘bowling captain’, has retired, Ishant has to play the mentor’s role. He will, but without that title.
“I keep things simple, consider myself as just a player. No point thinking I am a senior and have to take wickets. It brings unnecessary pressure. “Seniority has a plus. The captain and coach listen to you. Like if I have to change my field, the captain will readily agree. But my experience should help players on the field. If I start showing off outside, it can destroy camaraderie.
“This is what I do with the kids here. I don’t drill anything into them, I just help them.” There is another academy he and Rajeev run at the DDA Sports Complex, Jasola.
“I want to produce pacemen. People say India lacks fast bowlers. It’s not only about natural attributes, like height in my case, that make a fast bowler. Look at Bhuvneshwar. He is relatively short but is a match-winner.”