Ishant Sharma’s ton, one of resolve and dedication
- The 32-year-old Sharma, who started off as a teenager in May 2007, has only now hit triple figures, but his longevity without shedding the tag as a genuine new-ball bowler is a tribute to his unwavering dedication as a subcontinent seamer.
It was early 2019, and the newly renamed Delhi Capitals IPL team were holding a media interaction. Prithvi Shaw, having missed the historic Test series in Australia due to injury, got up after concluding his session when he saw Ishant Sharma had just walked into the hall, posing for photographs. The youngest player in the India set-up, the smallest and perhaps the lightest too, darted across and jumped on Sharma, throwing his hands around the tall man’s shoulders.
The few present froze momentarily at the impudence, but they need not have worried about the country’s seniormost cricketer exploding in anger.
Sharma not only didn’t drop his young teammate, he flashed his patent grin, as if pleading with everyone to see for themselves what he has to go through. It only took a few seconds to realise how much at ease his junior teammates would be with him in the team dressing room.
It would be fitting when Sharma walks on to a spanking new stadium in Ahmedabad in whites for the day-night Test on Wednesday, as the only second India new-ball bowler to reach a century of appearances. The only three other active players to touch 100 Tests will all be in the England camp.
Sharma is the seniormost Test player currently after England fast bowler James Anderson. His debut in the summer of 2007 was ahead of Stuart Broad by a few months. England skipper Joe Root is the only other active 100-plus man in Tests.
Just looking at the numbers—Anderson made his debut in May, 2003 and will be playing his 159th Test. If Broad plays, it will be the 146th since his debut in December, 2007.
The 32-year-old Sharma, who started off as a teenager in May 2007, has only now hit triple figures, but his longevity without shedding the tag as a genuine new-ball bowler is a tribute to his unwavering dedication as a subcontinent seamer. The injuries have been many, especially to the ankle that has borne the most agony of landing on hard pitches.
His temperament makes Sharma a soldier in cricketing whites. That resolve was needed for the Delhi bowler to bounce back after every injury and dip in form as he worked his way back; to keep questions about selection from affecting him.
A succession of skippers and coaches rewarded that dedication in a 14-year Test career where Sharma has eased into the shock and stock bowling roles, be it with Zaheer Khan as the spearhead when he started or with Jasprit Bumrah since 2018.
The Shaw episode happened in relative privacy. Rohit Sharma recalled a very public episode on Sunday, hailing his teammate’s ability to lighten the mood. “We’ve been playing since our U-19 days. We’ve so much to talk about. One thing which makes me laugh even now (is) when I watch that incident with Steve Smith and when he was bowling to him (in the 2017 Bengaluru Test),” he said in a media interaction. “I don’t know whether he was trying to mock him or not, but it was very funny. I was not part of that Test, I was watching it from home. Luckily I was watching it on Tata Sky, so I kept rewinding it and saw it like 100 times. I still watch it.”
Sharma was contorting his face to unsettle Smith as the hosts pushed for a breakthrough. It left the then Australia skipper laughing. India got him though, going on to win the Test, and eventually the series.
R Ashwin spoke of an accommodating Sharma during the first Test in Chennai. Asked by a reporter in Tamil to tell him about Ishant, Ashwin said how he suggested to Virat Kohli to change Sharma, who was then bowling, and use the spinners to bowl a few more overs. “I went over to inform Ishant as I wanted to make sure he didn’t feel bad, but Ishant joked, “Actually it’s good, even I am very tired’.”
Among his serious achievements stands out the spell of hostile short-pitched bowling, for a career-best 7/74 to help India win the Lord’s Test in 2014. And dismissing Ricky Ponting seven times, especially bowling a nine-over spell to get his man in India’s emotional win at Perth in 2008. Sharma’s early mastery of conventional and reverse swing troubled Ponting, who recalled that phase as he helped Aaron Finch deal with the senior pro on the 2018-19 tour of Australia.
Many Indian pacers have given up early as their body took a toll trying to bowl quick. Zaheer Khan broke down during Tests more than once and had to give up. Even the great Kapil Dev retired after one such injury in his final ODI in 1994. Sharma though has found fresh momentum in the last three seasons, armed with advice from former Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie during his county stint to become only India’s third pacer to take 300 wickets.
With Sharma, it has not been about those big hauls, it is more about the value of the scalps. At Ahmedabad, the ball is expected to move. And one can expect Sharma to pull his weight.