Bangalore: The long and unruly mane running all over him and his unkempt stubble, coupled with his gangly structure makes him one of the most easily recognizable Indian cricketers, even though that doesn't necessarily mean he is one of most popular of the players, owing to his poor performance in recent times. Well, no prizes for guessing who is being referred to here.
Yes, it is none other than Ishant Sharma. The 'beanpole' Indian pacer, who burst upon the scene during Team India's acrimonious tour of Australia in 2007-08, impressed one and all with his superb display with the ball on his debut tour.
He got one of the biggest compliments from none other than Steve Waugh. Not the one to appreciate opponents that easily, the former Australian captain was full of praise for the lanky Ishant. And Ishant deserved each and every bit of that praise coming his way from one of the all-time greats of the game. He had proved to be the nemesis for prolific batsman and the man who had led Australia admirably till recently – Ricky Ponting.
Bowling around 140 kmph on a regular basis was what made the Delhi pacer a force to be reckoned with. Of course, he was blessed with the great height which is atypical for an Indian fast bowler, and he was utilizing his tall physique to the fullest.
Waugh went on record saying that Ishant was the perfect find for India that has witnessed a dearth of quality pacers in recent years. It was at such a time that Ishant emerged on the radar when the country was groping in the dark, desperately seeking to unearth express seamers who could hit the deck hard.
He was touted as the next best thing to happen to Indian cricket after Javagal Srinath. Both of them had certain similarities between them – most noticeable being their wiry structure and sheer pace to begin with. While Srinath had to reduce his pace gradually owing to injuries in the course of his fairly good international career, Ishant has had a rather indifferent path in what was supposed to be a smooth journey after starting off with a bang.
But, it wasn't to be as untimely injuries took their toll on him and Ishant has never been able to rediscover his old penetrative self again till date. He has been in and out of the team far too often for his comfort, and has become cannon fodder for rampaging rival batsmen who have taken him to the cleaners.
For instance, in the recent seven-match one-day international series against Australia at home, Ishant had one of the most miserable bowling figures. Although India went on to win the series 3-2, the Indian bowling was yet again exposed on batting featherbeds.
Ishant's worst nightmare came true when he was blasted for 30 runs in a single over by the explosive all-rounder James Faulkner, who took Australia to an incredible victory in the third ODI at Mohali. That one over turned the match on its head and India lost a game which they should have ideally won. The next game saw Ishant being duly dropped which was along expected lines.
Then, on the disastrous tour of South Africa late last year, he was played in the second and third ODIs after being overlooked for the opener. His performances were nothing significant, although in the Test series that followed the one-dayers, he scalped four wickets for 79 runs in the first innings of the first Test. However, he went wicketless in second and final Test which South Africa won in a remarkable manner.
And now, in New Zealand, Ishant was yet again carted away for 72 runs in the nine overs he bowled, managing to get just a solitary wicket. The captain's as well as the selectors' patience with him is wearing thin with each passing day.
His free fall is hurting the team big time, match after match. His utility to the side has been severely undermined. With rookies such as Ishwar Pandey eagerly waiting in the wings and breathing down his neck, Ishant has his task clearly cut out and his days are undoubtedly numbered.
Pandey, being an unknown quantity on the international circuit is the best bet to replace the under-performing Ishant. He too has the height factor going in his favour and following an impressive Ranji show last season, he was drafted into the India A squad for the tour of South Africa earlier last year. After excelling there too, the 24-year-old speedster from Madhya Pradesh got his big break when he was summoned to the senior national team for the current tour of New Zealand. If given an opportunity, the 6'2'' seamer is highly likely to make an impact straightaway.
Aaron was a bowler who had elicited effusive praise for his tearaway pace from none other than the ace Wasim Akram. The former Pakistani bowling great had recognized the immense potential of Aaron and had recommended him to the Indian team. Bowling regularly in the vicinity of 150 kmph, Aaron will surely be an asset for the Indian team, provided he manages to stay injury free. Aaron indeed got his chances to play for the three years ago, but could not hold on to his place due to his back injury that took over two years to heal completely. Now that he is back in the reckoning and with Ishant in the dismal form that he is in, the 24-year-old Jharkhand pacer should more than fancy his chances of returning to the Indian team.
And as far as Umesh Yadav is concerned, the 26-year-old seamer from Maharashtra has some bowling attributes that can serve Team India well. With the ability to move the ball both ways and possessing an effective bouncer to boot, Yadav has fared pretty well in the limited opportunities he has got till now to play for the nation.
So how many more chances will Ishant get and how many more does he require to prove himself on the big stage? Even after playing over 50 Tests, 71 ODIs and 14 T20Is, the 6'4'' pacer has unfortunately not been able to cement his place in the national team. Can he arrest his rapid decline and come back resurgent at the earliest? Or is it only a case of downhill for him henceforth? If it is the latter, then it will be yet another tragic tale of one more Indian pacer biting the dust after promising so much early on.