Remember Raju Kulkarni, the bustling Mumbai fast medium bowler or TA Sekar, the strapping and energetic Tamil Nadu quick of the 1980s? What about Delhi’s Vivek Razdan or Mumbai’s Salil Ankola?
India’s quick bowling history is replete with characters who promised much but fizzled out before they got going. When Ishant Sharma burst onto the scene as a gangly 19-year-old and tormented Ricky Ponting in Perth, there was excitement unlimited, but given our history, just a touch of cynicism as well.
The learning curve has proved to be a steep one for the Delhi youngster, and though he has gained immeasurably in experience, the bite has been missing of late. Thankfully Ishant, still enjoys the backing of his captain and selectors. But he knows that the patience of fans might begin to wear thin if he isn’t back to his best soon.
“People say I’m a genuine fast bowler, perhaps the first to come out from India,” said Ishant. “I don't know how true that is, because we have produced great bowlers, but I’m very proud of being tagged ‘fast’. I’m not going to give it up ever. Even in Sri Lanka, I tried to bowl fast. Yes, I erred in length, but I will never compromise on speed.”
But he conceded that there have been times when he has not been at his sharpest. “Pace drops at times. I was bowling around 135km in Sri Lanka, but if anyone begins calling me fast medium, that would be incorrect,” he said. “I’m not a swing bowler. I hit the deck and depend on movement off the surface.”
Ishant, who believed the ultimate compliment for a fast bowler was being given the new ball, is beginning to understand that his role in the team might be bowling first change. “Kirsten and Dhoni sat me down and explained the importance of bowling first change. That was something I had to learn. They told me that if I wanted to become a complete bowler, I should learn to bowl in every phase.”
While still young at 21, Ishant says he’s not the “wide eyed, awestruck” teenager anymore, and is “wiser.” What’s more, he warns that a new facet of his game is just developing. "Early in my career, I never thought a bouncer was needed. How wrong I was. I'm working towards developing a mean bouncer. Wait and watch.”