India have been sweating over Ishant Sharma’s fitness. He injured his ankle during a Ranji Trophy game but has passed the fitness test and is on the way to New Zealand for the two-match Test series. Many are considering his return as a massive boost for India but when you look at his overall numbers, you’d tend to question why.
292 wickets in 96 Test matches, average of 32.68 and strike-rate of 61.6. These aren’t stats that one can really boast about or how does it really boost a team? For someone who has played for close to 13 years, the numbers should’ve been a lot better. He was the second slowest bowler to reach the 250-wicket mark in Test cricket as well.
For long now, Ishant was reduced to a workhorse bowler. He used to run, hit the deck hard (usually back of length) and bowl long tiring spells. He was deemed an ‘unlucky bowler’ on multiple instances. The lanky pacer made multiple trips to the SENA countries but couldn’t really force his way.
But things have changed since the start of 2018. There’s been a drastic change in the way he’s bowling, in the way he’s leading India’s pace attack alongside Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami.
We talk about Bumrah’s consistency and wicket-taking ability, Shami’s ability to produce spells where he can run through sides but what about Ishant? Where does he stand in this Indian fast bowling trio? We tend to usually put the spotlight too much on the other two and Ishant goes under the radar. But the Delhi pacer’s numbers in the last two years are as good as the other two as well.
Only two Indian bowlers to have bowled an excess of 100 overs in overseas Tests in the last two years have an average under or in the 20s. One is Bumrah and the other is Ishant. The 31-year-old fast bowler has been excellent in red-ball cricket. Be it home or away, the Delhi lad has stepped up and delivered.
Table: Performance of Indian bowlers in overseas Tests since 2018
Since 2018, Ishant has picked up 66 wickets (second-most for an Indian bowler) at an average of 19.43 (second-best for an Indian bowler) and has a strike-rate of 42.7 (third-best for an Indian bowler with 10+ wickets). Away from home, he has taken 48 wickets from 12 Tests and averages 20.50.
These numbers even challenge Bumrah’s. Ishant comes second-best in almost every criterion. In every country that he’s played, the tall lanky pacer averages under 25. Moreover, he’s gone wicketless in a total of three innings and just one innings in an away Test which is a fabulous stat.
|in South Africa||2||69||8||18.75||2.17||51.7|
|in West Indies||2||49.4||11||12.27||2.71||27|
Table: Performance of Ishant Sharma in different countries since 2018
It’s really been the rise of Ishant Sharma 2.0 in the last couple of years. His seam position is coming out beautifully. The consistency has risen several notches. The lengths have become a lot fuller as well.
He may not be among India’s top two fast bowlers with Bumrah and Shami around. But he continues to be India’s workhorse and has become a premier wicket-taker. Ishant has also taken over the new-ball as well. Often, he used to be the first-change bowler. But not anymore. India simply have to give Ishant the new ball now if he plays. He jags the ball around and gets it to curve into the right-hander. Moreover, he can get the ball to straighten and go away from the right-hander as well. He’s started to play around with the batsmen’s minds as well and has been mixing it up beautifully.
When Ishant was included in the team for the second Test match against South Africa in Centurion in early 2018, there was a lot of criticism. He was preferred over Bhuvneshwar Kumar who bowled really well in the first Test. However, as time has passed, Ishant showed why the captain has backed him so much. The work he put in with Jason Gillespie during his County stint with Sussex was remarkable. In fact, the former Aussie fast bowler is one of the reasons why Ishant has become so successful in what can be termed a second wing of his career. There were quite a few things that changed and the results followed as well.
The way he’s been bowling gives India the cushion. He is still the workhorse. He can still bowl long spells but there’s a difference. There’s a lot more consistency and moreover, he’s just not holding one end up. He’s a lot more attacking and is threatening to take wickets every time he comes on to bowl.
Hence, Ishant is the perfect fit in India’s three-pronged pace attack. India’s fast bowling stocks are at an all-time high but Ishant provides a different edge altogether.
This is Ishant’s third trip to New Zealand and his experience will be very handy. He has picked up 23 wickets at an average of 30.91 across five Tests in New Zealand on two trips. But that was a different version of Ishant Sharma. This is a new beast. Hence, there’s absolutely no doubt that he will play a vital role and his availability is a massive boost for this team.