Ishant Sharma

Has Ishant Sharma already played his last Test match for India?


Ishant Sharma is a typical, jovial Delhi lad from Patel Nagar, easy to address if a captain wishes to bench him. But somewhere there, deep down, when Virat Kohli would’ve gone up to convey his fate in Cape Town, the veteran pacer would’ve been hurting.

Made to sit out for three successive Tests now, Ishant has gone from being the senior, experienced leader of India’s much-vaunted pace pack to its fifth-best frontline bowler, below even Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav in the pecking order.

Siraj’s injury was supposed to pave way for Ishant’s return to the playing XI, with the expectation that India would take lessons from their defeat in Jo’burg and bring their control-man back. Instead, the team management preferred an extra enforcer in Umesh to add to an attack already featuring Shardul Thakur alongside Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.

It’s an obvious high-risk one, isn’t it? With Umesh and Thakur prone to erring with their consistency, who do India fall back to when they need a leash on scoring and need to provide Shami and Bumrah some timely breaks between their spells?

Ishant Sharma India Test cricket

Ishant Sharma has had an injury-riddle frustrating two-year period.

Ishant’s absence was only highlighted by how the final innings panned out at Jo’burg this time. In complete contrast to the 2018 Test at the venue, India lacked their tall, consistent right-arm quick shutting an end up before the team’s more likely wicket-takers feasted on the batters he had set up for them with constant pressure, setting in indecisive thought process and scrambled footwork. Ishant took only two wickets but his 31 runs were conceded over 16 overs, including 3 maidens. India eventually defended their 241-run target by 63 runs.

WATCH: Ishant Sharma’s scorching inswinger to dismiss Jos Buttler

But beyond the tactical merits of India’s decision, there is a fear that they are beginning to move past Ishant Sharma altogether after two years of sustained injury struggles. A’ la Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

India can’t just give up on Ishant Sharma

It’s baffling how quickly things change in Indian cricket. When Ishant ended 2019 with 105 Test wickets at 24.45 in the previous four years, having transformed himself from a workhorse made to do the dirty work to a more lethal and robust wicket-taking threat across conditions, he wouldn’t have imagined the period he is about to enter.

Playing a Ranji Trophy game in January 2020, he hurt his ankle. Being initially touted unfit for the tour of New Zealand, he was declared fit at the NCA for the two-match series. Ishant bagged a five-fer in Wellington in India’s defeat in early 2020 to dispel doubts over his readiness for a comeback. But then he missed the next Test as the ankle issue reappeared. The pandemic came, robbed him of eight months worth of cricket, before a side strain picked during IPL took its toll and forced him out of the tour of Australia.

Ishant played four home Tests on turners in early 2021, missed further two Tests in England, in-between bowling his only real poor spell in this whole phase at Headingley, he hurt his finger playing a home Test in November and here he is today, sitting Test after Test on surfaces designed for him to flourish in South Africa. Ishant’s body has let him down when he was most ready to make his upskilled avatar count.

Life’s not always fair to good people, but you’d think, for what he has done for Indian cricket through thick and thin, being the only survivor of the disastrous 8-0, Ishant Sharma deserves a better ending.

It’s not as if India are being absolutely unfair in leaving him, for Ishant has looked gingerly in certain spells through this phase. But historically that tends to be the case with bowlers grappling with the affects of injuries each time they come back to the side.

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Since the start of 2020, Ishant has taken 19 wickets at 28.10 – which is still not bad – but pertinently, the 33-year-old quick has delivered an average worth less than 13 overs per innings. That is simply not good enough workload for someone playing only one format and enduring long, sustained periods overcoming injuries, going through rehabs.

A fast-bowler’s body requires more overs and the only way to do that is by playing. At a time when there is no Ranji Trophy taking place, and travelling restrictions pose hurdle to a county deal as well, Test cricket is Ishant’s only rebuilding ground.

Ultimately, India can’t afford to lose him. Not now that he has more than 100 Tests and 300 wickets under his belt, better skilled than ever to take wickets. Not when he is only 33 and young options, including Siraj, are yet to properly warm up to the hard grind at the Test level. This cannot be it for Ishant Sharma. He needs trust, patience, more opportunities and overs. Not the red flag to what should be a flourishing career right now, not a finished one.

Last time an Indian bowler battled injuries and looked like fading out of scene, he emerged through the doom and gloom that others had cast around him like a champion and proved his naysayers wrong. One wicket at a time.

A cricket writer by heart and profession. Currently at work for CricXtasy. Previously with Circle of Cricket. You can find him on Twitter @crickashish217