The sight of Ishant Sharma sprawled on a massage table for about 20 minutes in between his bowling spells on Tuesday, just 48 hours ahead of the first Test, didn't make for a pretty sight. It's normal for fast bowlers to rush to a physio for a quick pat down, but the otherwise routine visit became significant in the case of Ishant. The lanky fast bowler, it may be recalled, had been included in the squad without having played any competitive cricket after undergoing ankle surgery, and hence his fitness will remain under the scanner till he proves himself on the field.
The Delhi pacer had told HT sometime back that he didn't see himself coming back until September, and was planning on taking complete rest. The selectors, however, picked him for the short New Zealand series, claiming that he had passed the fitness test and was ready to play.
The move took the bowler, too, by surprise, although he said he was anyway fit to play.
"Yes, it came a bit early. I had planned on playing a few matches to get into shape. But I am happy with my overall condition. I have passed the fitness test. I bowled 15 overs and fielded for 90 overs one day. The very next day, I came back to bowl six overs. After that, I didn't feel any problem," Ishant told HT a few days back.
While the selectors and Ishant sounded satisfied with the call, not everyone is convinced though. Manoj Prabhakar, the former India bowler, lambasted the selectors.
"They are playing with his career. It's just too risky to push him into playing without giving him a chance to check and prove his match fitness. I have suffered this injury during my playing days, and I can tell you it doesn't heal as quickly. Ishant is an asset to Indian cricket and needs to be taken care of," said Prabhakar.
Sources told HT that selectors rushed Ishant's comeback as they had marked him, along with Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, for Tests as there weren't enough bowlers around with their guile and pace. Be that as it may, the move, as Prabhakar pointed out, is not only 'risky' for the Delhi bowler, but also reflects poorly on India's fast bowling resources. It's bound to discourage other quicks as the decision reflects the selectors' lack of confidence in their abilities.
"A few youngsters like Harshal Patel and Parwinder Awana look good. Make them play. You need to give them confidence, trust them and give them chance if you are to know how good they are," said Madan Lal, former India selector and coach.
Sources close to the selection panel revealed that the idea behind recalling Ishant was to keep him with the team and help him get into groove for the tougher home series against England and Australia that follow the easier test against the Kiwis.
"Even if Ishant is benched, he will be in good shape for the bigger challenges later this year," said the source. Going by that, it looks unlikely that the Delhi bowler will get a look-in in the first Test.
"I am okay with him being in the squad, but players coming back from injury should play first class games. That is where you get tested," said Madan Lal.