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Bowling everyone over

Ishant Sharma is next in what is fast turning into an assembly line of fast bowlers India is producing at the moment. The lanky 19-year-old announced his arrival in Perth this week, increasing expectations, writes Arjun Sen.
By Arjun Sen | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON FEB 15, 2008 10:53 PM IST

In every sportsperson’s life, there comes a moment which shapes the rest of his career. It is a moment of pure genius, of unparalleled brilliance that forces the world to sit up and take notice. Suddenly, one virtuoso performance later, a hitherto unheralded tyro is transformed into the golden boy.

For Ishant Sharma, that moment arrived at the Perth Test. All of four Tests old, Ishant displayed, what many people believe, was one of the finest exhibitions of fast bowling by an Indian. In that one spell he bowled to Ricky Ponting, Ishant made the Australian captain look like a novice.

Taking on Ponting

One of the finest players of pace bowling, Ponting had no answers to the probing questions Sharma asked of him. It was as if the roles had been reversed — Ponting was the novice and Sharma, the experienced campaigner. Seldom, if ever, did Ponting look so out of sync and out of sorts in his career. It was undoubtedly a proud moment for Indian cricket, watching a young, raw fast bowler steaming in and paying back the Aussies in the same coin. Finally, after enduring eight overs of pure, unbridled agony, Ponting fell. That moment, in more ways than one, was when Ishant announced his arrival to the world.

Ishant is next in what is rapidly turning into an assembly line of fast bowlers India is producing at the moment. Blessed with the perfect concoction of pace, bounce and movement, Ishant has been making waves in Australia.

The next big thing?

Great things are expected from this youngster and the inevitable comparisons have already begun. Ishant has been compared to a young Javagal Srinath in his bowling action, gangly frame and the pace he generates. ‘The next big thing in Indian cricket’ — as the nineteen-year-old has been labelled, Ishant has a lot to live up to.

But the person he is being likened to reckons Ishant has what it takes to make it big. Javagal Srinath, one of the best fast bowlers to have come out of India and believes Ishant too can make a name for himself.
“He has everything going for him, he can generate great pace, extract disconcerting bounce, and most importantly, has the right attitude,” Srinath says of the new kid on the block.

Despite all the fame and adulation that have come his way, there is still this naïve tenor in Ishant’s voice when he answers questions, there is still this unmistakable glint in his eye when he goes out to play, when he is handed the ball with a job at hand.
“There are times when I find it difficult to believe that I am doing these things,” he recently said of his exploits in Australia. “It’s a great feeling to get a great batsman like Ricky Ponting twice in the match,” was all he had to say about outthinking Ponting at Perth.
And that is how Ishant is as a person. Behind the aggressive, take-no-prisoners demeanour Ishant displays on the field, lies a regular teenager who likes doing the regular things others his age do.

His roommate from one of the Ranji Trophy games remembers Ishant as an avid student of the game. “We had just bowled the whole day in intense heat, and were dying to hit the bed. But not Ishant, he stayed up all night to watch a match,” he says.

A rocky start

A class XII student of Ganga International School, Ishant had a very rocky start to his international career. In January last year, he was called up to replace an injured Irfan Pathan for the third Test in South Africa in 2006.

Bags packed and all ready to go, Ishant was, however, given a rude shock when the BCCI backtracked on their announcement and asked the Delhi pacer to continue with his domestic commitments.

Naturally put off by this bizarre twist, Ishant looked out-of-sorts and off-colour all over in his next game, giving more fodder to his detractors who had claimed he wasn’t ready for international cricket. In the news for all the wrong reasons, Ishant faced an uphill battle to prove he had both the temperament and the skill to make the grade.

This early setback in his nascent career could have easily put a rude, premature end to Ishant’s dreams. But that did not happen.
Knowing he had to prove a point, Ishant came back stronger in the following domestic season. Says one of his Delhi teammates about the transformed Ishant: “It was as if he was a man on a mission, he bowled more overs than anyone else and was hell-bent on making a mark.”

This Australian tour has been a fairytale so far for the gawky-eyed Delhi boy. The crowds, the media and the cricketing fraternity—Ishant finds himself on the good books of all of them. It is, as if, he can do no wrong at the moment.

But Ishant had better beware. After all, just one false move from him could change the equation rather dramatically. Ishant needs to keep a steady head on his shoulders, not letting fame get the better of him. Easier said than done? yes.

But Ishant has shown he has the temperament to do the tough things without too much of a bother. The future is yours, Ishant. Go claim it…

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