It has been more than seven years since Ishant Sharma made his Test debut. Yet, he is finding it difficult to establish himself in the team as the side's frontline pacer. It has been a couple of seasons since Zaheer Khan has stopped being India's number one bowler. The left-arm seamer has been constantly in and out of the side during this period. This was the time Ishant was expected to step up and make the difference. But, that hasn't happened as the lanky pacer from Delhi has struggled with both form and fitness. The Australia tour will be an extremely tough one for India, and without a good performance from their lead bowler, they are expected to struggle.
Ishant's second innings spell at Lord's was seen by many as the fast bowler's coming of age, just as pundits believe the Adelaide effort in 2003 would be the watershed moment in Ajit Agarkar's career. The Mumbai pacer could not build on that legendary performance, and now it remains to be seen whether Ishant will also follow a similar disappointing path. Ishant got injured during his sensational spell at Lord's, which gave India a rare victory, and was ruled out of the next couple of Tests. By the time he returned to the squad, India had lost the advantage gained, and Ishant wasn't as effective.
Inconsistency has been the major issue in the case of Ishant. He has looked like taking wickets at various phases during his career. But, the potential has rarely translated into performances. Lord's was an exception. With Zaheer no longer part of the scheme of things, Ishant automatically becomes the leader of the pack, since he is the most experienced player in the team. But, the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami, who made their respective debuts well after Ishant have outdone him in recent times as far as consistency is concerned. With Kumar ruled out of the first two Tests, it is about time Ishant puts his hand up and delivers.
In Australia, experience matters a lot, and this is why Ishant will be looked up to by the other bowlers. He has experience of playing in the conditions, and even bowled that famed spell to Ricky Ponting in 2007-08 at Perth, during which the Aussie great was made to look a literal novice. Ponting is no longer around on the international scene, but Ishant should take confidence from the fact that he has been successful here before. It is also his responsibility to guide the likes of Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav. But, for that, he would himself have to lead by example.
Without Zaheer, the Indian attack looks very much toothless, and with Kumar also being ruled out for half the series, perhaps more, things have become doubly difficult for India. This is why it is imperative for Ishant to stand up and make his experience count. He has always had the talent, and now he has ample experience as well. But now, he desperately needs to prove that he is the man who will take Indian cricket forward as far as the fast bowling department is concerned. Will the real Ishant Sharma please stand up then?
--By A Cricket Analyst