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Ace of pace, raring to go

Delhi teenager Ishant Sharma is being billed as the next big thing in Indian fast bowling, reports C Shekhar Luthra.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2007 03:04 IST

It was 7.30 in the evening after a gruelling day of cricket at Vijayawada. The Delhi players had all slipped into their hotel rooms for a quick shower before dinner. Among the closed doors, only one room was open.

A walk past the door could change one’s perception of a pace bowler, generally regarded as a fearsome character. The six-foot, four-inch new entrant in Indian cricket’s pace club, Ishant Sharma, was immersed in meditation. Watching the 18-year-old’s serene face, one felt sad recalling that only the week before he had tasted the first shock of his career: the Indian cricket board had first informed Ishant that he had to immediately join our struggling team in South Africa, before taking a complete U-turn on the decision.

A 15-minute wait later, he is ready to talk. “Whatever the circumstances, I always take time out to pray,” he says.

Life changed overnight for this Delhi boy after his pictures were flashed all over television, following the BCCI fiasco. Ishant downplays it all: “At times, people approached me asking if I was the same Ishant Sharma. Else, nothing has changed. Fellow cricketers treat me the same way as before,” says the shy guy. Of course, he came into the limelight much before the BCCI goof-up, early last year after doing well for the under-19 team on tours of England and Pakistan.

In less than two seasons since he played his first U-17 match for Delhi, the Ganga International School student has made a mark with his in-swingers. An 18-wicket haul in the U-19 circuit last season saw Ishant being picked for the junior NCA camp at Bangalore, where Indian coach Greg Chappell noticed him. He has also emerged as the highest wicket-taker for Delhi in his debut Ranji one-day season.

Surprisingly, Ishant, son of a businessman, wasn’t always inclined towards cricket — till his uncle took him to the Rohtak Road Gymkhana cricket club’s coach Shrawan Kumar when he was 16. “I’ve heard that my father used to bowl well but I’ve never seen him playing,” he says. Ishant, of course, is more of a mama’s boy — he only goes to his father for cricket counselling, else he confides in his mother Girisha and elder sister Iva.

Ishant doesn’t read newspapers and shuns TV news to avoid information that might divert attention. That’s how, when the media went berserk over his exclusion, Ishant stayed calm. He leaves with the U-19 team to New Zealand later this month but before that he has to bail out Delhi from going down from the Elite Ranji Trophy group. An India cap seems just a few steps away.

Email C Shekhar Luthra: shekharluthra@hindustantimes.com