In his South Patel Nagar neighbourhood, Ishant Sharma isn’t exactly known by his address. Mention the name, the laundryman mumbles and then quips, “Woh lamboo, apna cricketer,” before showing the way to a four-storey independent house with a glass façade.
Ishant, however, isn’t always amused by the nickname and shakes his head as he waits for the evening tea in his parents’ living room.
“I was the tallest in my class and everyone called me lamboo,” he says, sitting under a family picture in which he stands out among his father, mother, sister, brother-in-law and two-year-old niece, Atharviga.
“My mother is tall and so were my grandfathers. I have got my 6’4” frame from them.”
It was his height that caught the eye of Rohtak Road Gymkhana Club coach Shravan Kumar. It didn’t take long for the Delhi and national selectors to notice it too. Ishant, however, shifted his practice venue from Shravan’s crowded academy in west Delhi to the quiet Vasant Kunj Sports Complex two years back.
Barring a few kids from a government school close by, no one distracts him as he begins practice at 12.45 pm.
Two cones are kept at a good length spot off a single stump to ensure a tight line. Two bursts of half hour each follow. He practices using the crease.
“I am a kind of bowler who has to work more on the line than length,” he says, sporting a red Manchester United shirt.
His friend, Rajiv Mahajan, runs the academy and acts as his guide at the nets and movie mate in the evenings.
Grilled meat is a favourite, especially during off-season but it flops when pitted against mom’s food. Rajma chawal, Chhole chawal and Kadhi chawal are worth a try. So is bhindi (ladyfinger). Everything is made without garlic, a no-no in their strictly vegetarian household. Teammates Cheteshwar Pujara, Amit Mishra and R Ashwin may have stayed vegetarians “but meat becomes more of a need for a fast bowler”.
“But I have reached a point where I have started craving for her food. Staying away from home for over half the year has made me value it.”
It is Rajma on this day after practice followed by an hour-long nap in his room on the third floor, created more like a suite. While the parents’ section is built more like a house, his comprises a living room and a huge hall that acts as his room. The 55” LCD is a companion and mostly plays music channels.
The choice of colours — cream and beige is different from his parents’ pink and dazzling pink. Travel has inculcated taste but they are issues too. “Like, I have to ensure the wooden floor doesn’t get wet.”
Enter Zango, his two-year-old Labrador. “I was away most of the time so he grew close to dad. So much so that when dad and mom went to Europe recently for a holiday, he didn’t eat for the first two days. I was worried.”
Zango is Ishant’s sole past-time ever since his sister left with her child. “I love to spend time with Atharviga, but now it is TV and Zango.” Both entertain him as he sips tea. He watches the lungi dance intently and then admires Priyanka Chopra’s singing skills as she appears with Pitbull.
“I don’t particularly like any actor but I love movies, especially comedies like Golmaal 3.”
Since it isn’t a day when ‘Comedy Night With Kapil’ will show on TV, he plans an outing with friends after gym training and the customary homage to Lord Hanuman in a temple behind his house.
It could be a trip to Vasant Kunj at the Promenade Mall where he may watch a movie and follow it up with a bite at his favourite ‘Nandos’. ‘Megu’ at the Leela or ‘China Kitchen’ at Hyatt are options too, a far cry from Vijay restaurant in West Patel Nagar where friends and he would celebrate birthday parties as kids.
While a plan is being chalked out, cousin, Rohan, joins in. Ishant is the eldest brother (after two sisters) among 11 cousins. Like a good brother, Rohan says, Ishant always gets stuff without them asking for it. “And he never scolds.”
Ishant says no one in the joint family is used to scolding. “It is something I learnt from my elders.”
His father has four brothers. While the others were in export-import, real estate and stable jobs, Ishant’s dad would fit ACs.
“It is time for him to enjoy life,” says Ishant, who, courtesy cricket, moved out and built this home a few lanes from his family house.
The gym is the latest addition to the house. It is set up next to the parking space and Ishant glances at his blue sports car, an Audi RS5, as he steps into the gym. “It used to be tough to work out in the neighbourhood gym. You had to get a special time, which would be an odd hour. So, I decided to set this up, it has the stuff I need,” he says.
There are an array of free weights — dumbbells of 15, 20 and 7.5 kg, four medicine balls of different weights, an exercise bicycle and a treadmill.
Ishant looks at the manual from the National Cricket Academy and starts stretching. Some chin-ups follow, he throws the heaviest medicine ball with all his might on either side and lifts some dumbbells. The workout is broken by sips of protein shake.
The phone rings. The visit to the Promenade is bettered by a drive in his Audi sportscar on Ridge Road after midnight.
“It is better, I think. Usually, my parents don’t let me enter home after 10. So if I am out and get late, I sleep at a friend’s place. But there is an exception. They know I can take the car out only after midnight as the roads are empty. I go out at 12 and come back at 1.30 am.”
It is back to the TV after a bath and visit to the temple. Before that, it is dinner with the family and some more television before he scorches the tarmac while the city sleeps.