Ishant Sharma bowls during the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy semi-final match against Sri Lanka in Cardiff, south Wales. AFP
A packed stadium and a billion plus television audience; his every stride dissected by some of the biggest names in the game. He begins the over with India in the driver’s seat, but after two big hits off the first two balls, Ishant Sharma freezes.
He is downcast, shoulders droop and the eyes are blank. For the rest of the over, he goes through the motions against the rampaging James Faulkner.
Ishant was hit for 30 runs in the 48th over -- turning the match in Australia’s favour -- and finished with one for 63 from eight overs in the third ODI in Mohali. India have lost two of the three games, conceding 300-plus runs each time. Yet, in the squad named on Sunday for the last four ODIs, Ishant retains his place.
Those who know the situation in Indian cricket, though, are not surprised. MS Dhoni is in the best position to judge his stock. That he keeps going back to Ishant says it all. In the first two ODIs too, his economy rate was eight and 7.77 runs per over, yet Dhoni asked him to bowl the final over in Pune and Jaipur.
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At the moment Ishant is bowling well below his potential, he doesn’t have the skill to operate in the death overs and doesn’t come across as a thinking bowler. But looking beyond him is not an option for Dhoni as India’s pace cupboard is bare.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, whose economy rate has been under six in all three matches, is incisive with the new ball. But for a bowler of his pace, he is easy meat at the death when the ball stops swinging. Vinay Kumar has been equally unimpressive and lacks speed. Mohd Shami, still to play, is sharp but is yet to prove his mettle.
The next World Cup is in Australia and New Zealand, where speed and hitting the deck will be the key. The other two who can generate decent speed, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, have been injury prone.
It means Dhoni, coach Duncan Fletcher and Joe Dawes have no option but keep working on Sharma — the only one in this line-up who consistently clocks 135 plus — till he’s ready.
Their immediate challenge will be to get his confidence up quickly. And apart from practice it will be about saying the right words to him.
Dhoni explained how he intends to deal with Ishant. “When you are disappointed, it’s always better to give the individual a bit of time to think by himself. The ideal time is after going back to the hotel. That’s when you have a chat. When you are representing your country in front of 30,000 people, if you bowl a bad over, the individual is more disappointed than anyone in the stadium or in the team. When the right times comes, you have a talk.”
A lot of time, effort and trust has gone into project-Ishant.
It’s all in hope that the investment pays off at the 2015 World Cup.