“LOL is Ishant Sharma’s middle name.”
Bangalore, 2007. India have made 626. Pakistan are 96 overs into their innings and every batsman has made a double-figure score. There have already been three hundreds and a double-hundred. A teen, more like a young boy, with more hair than any human needs and an extremely prominent Adam’s apple, comes on to bowl.
A ball from a good length jumps up and makes Faisal Iqbal’s forward defence look idiotic. It flies off the gloves to a deepish short leg. It is one of five wickets in the innings for a 19-year old bowling on the many remains of deceased seamers who went before him.
India had found their missing link.
“Ishant Sharma is God’s answer to BCCI’s wrongdoings.”
‘Why does Ishant Sharma keep getting picked?’ It’s one of the most asked questions to people who have just admitted they are cricket journalists. You cannot escape that when you have played over 50 Tests and average more than 35. The current Australian team might be number one, but mainstays and recent sensations Steve Smith, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson have been at times the most abused victims of their fans.
Indian fans, when they were taking a break from abusing Rohit Sharma, would whip the Ishant boy all over social media. Tall for nothing. Over-rated. Slow. Can’t keep his foot behind the line. Can’t move the ball away from right-handers. Falls apart under pressure. Google suggests Ishant-Sharma jokes as its third search suggestion.
It’s also not a shock to see why he is still around. He’s tall. He’s fast. He gets natural movement. He can reverse swing the ball. They don’t grow on trees in India, or really, anywhere. If he uses all these things right, he’s a match-winner. He’s also a match loser. Ishant isn’t as fast as Johnson, or as tall as Morne Morkel. On a bad day, he is a fast-medium bowler with a no-ball problem and average control. Potential is a powerful aphrodisiac.
“Behind every successful batsman there is a Kamran Akmal, but in front of them is Ishant Sharma.”
A typical good Ishant delivery is angled in at the right-hander. The good ones swing further in and carry above the stumps to the keeper with a bit of heat on it. Akmal missed one such delivery like this. And Ishant decided to tell him about it. Loudly.
The scene looks bad because Ishant is screaming over Akmal, who is about a foot and three inches of hair shorter. Not to mention sledging a guy with an ODI batting average of 26 is like picking on the kid who isn’t allowed to use scissors in class. Ishant has to be removed from the situation.
Against Australia, Ishant decided to sledge David Warner at the WACA during the innings where Warner swung and connected with India’s head. Warner came back with verbal aggression and they had to be separated. But not before Warner said, “You’re kidding yourself, you are a bad bowler”.
A short poor ball from Ishant is cut by Root. India are sure it is out. Ishant is more sure. He’s surer than sure. He stands a few feet from Root and discusses it with him. And discusses it. And discusses. Eventually the two have to be removed. Replays show Ishant may not have been right. Although I doubt any replay could have changed his mind.
It’s not even just small aggressive batsmen that Ishant likes. During a piece of glacier-like fielding from Zaheer Khan, Ishant used a term that suggested an incestuous relationship after watching the ageing seamer allow an extra run.
Ishant has the anger.
“There are good bowlers, and there are poor bowlers. Then there’s 500 feet of crap, and then there’s Ishant Sharma.”
Australia need 44 from 18.
47.1 A wide half-volley. Four.
47.2 A short ball. Six.
47.3 A straight half-volley. Six.
47.4 A short ball. Two.
47.5 A short ball. Six.
“47.6 I Sharma to Faulkner, SIX, SIX MORE, what on earth? Ishant Sharma had his critics before this game, there aren’t going to be many people backing him after this, short once more, another pull, right off the middle off the bat, and that sails into the crowd once more, crowd not sure whether to be gobsmacked by this hitting from Faulkner or be thrilled by this sensational turnaround, that’s Faulkner’s 50 as well”
Australia win with three balls to spare.
“Dear single guys, if a girl gives you as many chances as Dhoni has given Ishant Sharma, marry her.”
Ishant’s last Test started with him cutting down New Zealand’s top order. He bowled quick. The ball moved. And Ishant took 6 for 51. There were sexy short balls and tricky straight balls. It was lovely and New Zealand had no answer to it. It was the sort of performance that should have justified the selectors faith in him.
The next innings in the same game, Ishant bowled 45 overs, took no wickets and went for 164 runs. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad Ishant is, Ishant remains.
“Dhoni isn’t India’s greatest finisher, Ishant Sharma is.”
The 50th over at Trent Bridge started with a no-ball. Ishant bowls a lot of no balls. Ishant is known for no balls. Then Ishant bowled a fast, reverse-swinging ball that tailed in and smashed into Sam Robson’s pads. Ishant does bowl reverse-swinging balls that tail in and smash into pads. Ishant is known for reverse-swinging balls that tail in and smash into pads. Ishant aggressively sent off Robson. Ishant often does aggressive send-offs. Ishant is known for aggressive send-offs. Ishant then bowled a short, slow long-hop that Ian Bell smacked for four. Ishant bowls a lot of short, slow long-hops that get smacked for four. Ishant is known for short, slow long-hops that get smacked for four. Ishant bowls a ball drifting down leg side. Ishant bowls a lot of balls drifting down leg side. Ishant is known for drifting the ball down the leg side.
That was one over. That was Ishant’s career.
“It was Ishant Sharma’s stunning form that made MS Dhoni take up bowling”.
A highlight package of Ishant’s best work looks as good as anything. Balls flying off a length. Quick swinging balls. Fast short balls. The hair, the necklace, the stare, the aggression. This is a fast bowler; you can smell it through the screen.
Ishant’s best delivery is a short of a length ball that angles in, tails further in and bounces quite well to the keeper. It’s a sexy ball, but it’s not that likely to get you out. An edge will probably be an inside edge that flies past the keeper. His height means the ball goes over the stumps. It’s essentially a theatre ball for people to “oh” and “ah” about. In the end, it’s a tragedy delivery. It’s the unlucky Ishant ball.
Ishant was once clocked at 152kph, but his wrist doesn’t stay behind the ball like it did that summer. Sometimes his head falls away as well. If you can get the ball to reverse in, you should also have the attributes to conventionally swing the ball out. Somehow Ishant doesn’t. He’s flawed. And he’s a rhythm bowler, which is often code for – he can be good, or really rubbish.
“RT if you can bowl better than Ishant Sharma!”
Australians have a different view of Ishant. They saw the young kid on his first tour bowl very good, and on occasion, very quick. This is despite the fact he only averages 44 against Australia, has an average of 73 in Australia and only has a best of 3 for 115 in Australia. It’s because of how many times Ishant dismissed Ricky Ponting.
In 2008, Ishant took Ponting’s wicket five times in Tests. Five times. Ishant had the pace and bounce, and when combined with a bowler who naturally moved the ball in, it was something Ponting never did well against. Here was a teenager doing it. Over, and over, and over again.
Somehow this guy had made a master look like an awkward teen. They had switched places. It wasn’t just the wickets that he took, but how silly Ponting looked in them. His bat splayed weirdly. His balance leaving him. He was always late. He was always trying to survive. At the other end he would be Ponting, at Ishant’s end he was the soon-to-be-massacred bunny.
Ponting eventually overcame it, and was only ever dismissed twice more in Tests by Ishant. By then though, the bunny stuff had stuck. And so it should. How many bowlers in Ponting’s career dominated him for a minute, let alone a year?
If you couldn’t get excited with Ishant at that stage, you were really fighting against basic human instincts.
“Newton’s third law modified: For every N Srinivasan, there is an equal and opposite Ishant Sharma.”
In the tour game in Leicestershire before Trent Bridge, Ishant conceded 64 runs in nine overs. He took two wickets, but even his mother would find it hard to justify that spell. It was made worse by the fact that his team-mates never took any of the Leicestershire players for more than five an over.
Today, in his last seven overs, Ishant took five wickets for 27 runs. He did it with five short balls. He did it with pace. He did it with energy. He did it with passion. He did it with all his flaws. He did it.
He will forever be the bowler who bowled India to victory at Lord’s.
If you allow me to walk you through the third wall for a moment, you may notice that there are some “jokes” in quotations throughout this piece. When you google Ishant Sharma, ‘Ishant Sharma jokes’ is the third result. There are many, many, many websites with lists of these jokes. There is much history to make fun of. Little of it can be realistically defended.
Ishant’s age at the moment is 25. Ishant is much maligned. Ishant is unlucky. Ishant is a bad bowler. Ishant is a 25-year old Indian quick who just took 7 for 74 at Lord’s to win a Test.
Today the joke was on England.