Potential is a very tricky trait in sport. It promises a lot but when the player fails to live up to it, it doesn’t mean an automatic exit from the team. The possibility of what can be is too endearing and many teams hold on to that dream a lot longer than the player himself.
India fast bowler Ishant Sharma is one such player. Ever since he made his debut in 2007, Ishant has promised the moon. His height, natural bounce, pace and zip off the pitch raised hopes of a superstar in the making. But 11 years after a dream start that included a sensational tour of Australia in 2008, Ishant can’t even be called the best Indian fast bowler of this generation.
Every pacer worth his salt has that one big win under his belt. England’s Andrew Flintoff has the 2005 Ashes. James Anderson has the 2011 Ashes win in Australia and the 2012 series win in India. Zaheer Khan has the 2007 Test series win in England and the 2011 World Cup triumph. Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir has the 2017 Champions Trophy final winning spell.
There are many contemporary quicks who have that one moment where they made the difference and etched their name in the history books.
Early Call—Ishant Sharma to have one of the most fruitful Test series in his career. 20+ wickets if he stayed fit. #EngvInd— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) July 31, 2018
Ishant doesn’t have that yet. For a major chunk of his career, Ishant was labelled an unlucky bowler who beat the bat a lot without getting wickets. It took the Delhi pacer the best part of a decade to pull his length back and concentrate on bowling straight to get the lbw calls and edges.
Yes he does have the seven-wicket haul in the 2014 Lord’s Test and two wickets in the 2013 Champions Trophy final – both in winning causes – but that doesn’t define a career.
The 29-year-old has played 82 Tests but only has 238 wickets. That’s not even three scalps per match. The best in the business are closer to four and five per game.
And yet, he has time on his side. That’s the benefit of starting as a teenager. Ishant is at his peak at the moment with his body and action as good as it will ever be. He has played county cricket in England this season and now concentrates on red ball cricket almost exclusively.
He is not the No1 fast bowler in the Indian team. Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami are ahead of him when it comes to skill and effectiveness. But Ishant has experience. And with injuries to Bumrah and Bhuvi, along with indifferent form and personal issues of Shami, Sharma is the leader of the pack.
The five-Test series in England is the opportunity for him to take the bull by the horns and give it his all. This stretch of international cricket is the best shot Ishant has of carving a niche for himself. And it’s high time the tall quick showed what he can really do with the ball.
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