While most of his other teammates boarded a flight to Guwahati for Delhi’s next Ranji Trophy stop in the wee hours of Saturday, Ishant Sharma returned to Delhi a little earlier on Friday night due to side-strain “a soft tissue damaged while stretching with the second new ball”.
Ishant, one of only two India pacers to have earned 100-plus Test caps, opened up on a range of issues about his career after Delhi’s sorry loss to Maharashtra in the Ranji opener.
What would you tell a youngster who asks you the secret of playing 100 Tests as a pacer?
The only thing I would say right now is: “do not think too much about the workload”. That’s a new term that’s come up in recent times, especially for fast bowlers. I never saw something like that during my international stint. When I started playing, my coach was an old-fashioned coach who would give me a ball in hand at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and we would go on till the sunset. That’s how I could bowl long spells when I made my debut in Ranji Trophy and later on for India. If you want to improve, the only thing you can do is to keep bowling.
Do you feel that Indian pacers are at times unnecessarily overprotected or they avoid playing games unless it’s absolutely necessary?
I think if you have made your name through domestic cricket, you should not be selective about playing games thereafter. If you want to play domestic cricket, nobody can stop you. Only when you have played a sizable amount of cricket for the country can you be given a break at times. Most pacers break down during Ranji Trophy games because they don’t go through the ideal preparation. Bowling in Ranji Trophy is a different ballgame altogether. If you are studying for the IAS exam, you have to study for 16 hours a day. Similarly, if you want to prepare to last a whole season of Ranji Trophy and bowl 20 overs a day, you cannot prepare for it by taking breaks. You have to prepare accordingly. Only if you are used to bowling 25 overs in the nets every day can you bowl 20 overs in a game.
Where do you see your cricket journey heading at this juncture?
I don’t really think about future too much. I am just enjoying my cricket right now. That’s why I have played all the three formats of this domestic season. I am not putting myself under pressure of “I want to make a comeback” anywhere. I have left all these things out of my mind. As long as I am passionate about the game, I will keep enjoying cricket.
Does that mean you have made peace with the fact of having achieved all that you wanted at the highest level?
Not really. It’s not that I don’t want to go back there and play but I have stopped chasing anything. Wherever I am playing, I will give my 100 per cent but will not expect to be picked in the (national) team when I do well. Like I said, I have started enjoying myself on the field and helping out the youngsters whenever I can.
How challenging has it been to come back to the domestic cricket grind?
I won’t call it challenging but I look at it as a very good opportunity, for myself, for the boys and the whole team. It’s been a while since we have excelled as a unit. The last time we made it to the final was in 2017-18 and Delhi is a giant in domestic cricket, so I am looking forward to contributing in whatever capacity I can for my state team. I remember how the state cricket fraternity backed me when I was a young cricketer, so it’s a great feeling whenever I can give it back to the state.
How have you been approaching it since you cannot practically spend the whole year with the Delhi squad?
Whenever I get time, I practise with them, I spend time with them, I share my experiences with the youngsters. On the field as well, I try and help them out on how to handle a tough situation. It’s important to either cope up with or capitalise on decisive moments across formats and if we can deal with these situations better, the team will be in a good place. We have been losing those moments, and as a result faltering as a team. I am trying my best to help the youngsters deal with these situations.
Are youngsters serious about domestic cricket? Or do they treat it only as a launchpad to get into the IPL?
Yes, you can get selected to IPL if you do well in T20 and one-dayers but certainly, if you want to be a Test cricketer, you have to excel in days’ games, that’s Ranji Trophy. There is no other way.
Does the Gen Next actually aspire to be a Test cricketer?
I cannot say for sure but with my limited experience, especially in my team, there are bowlers who want to bowl 20 overs in a day and bowl fast. I think that’s a very encouraging sign, especially for my state team. I spoke with a few guys from Maharashtra and even they were asking such serious and sincere questions about improving their red-ball game and contributing more to their team, it’s very good to see that the talent wants to play days’ cricket. Perhaps that’s what made me feel that there is a lot of mis-perception about domestic cricketers. People generally feel youngsters don’t want to play days’ cricket but from whatever I have seen, they are keen on playing it.
How different is remaining unsold in an IPL Auction to something like being dropped from the Indian team?
To be honest, I have stopped thinking about all these things. Once I go back home, I have my family, they love me. I have my dogs, they don’t really care what I do on a field. I have my wife, my parents and my friends, they just see me as Ishant and not as a cricketer. I just enjoy my life. I don’t care about whether I am wanted or unwanted anywhere. I am still playing this game because I love playing cricket. When I started bowling fast, I did so because I enjoyed it, not because someone wanted or someone disliked me. Honestly, I don’t care about all these things and don’t want to care about it either.
Have you given a thought to life after being a competitive cricketer?
I haven’t started thinking about it yet because I worked really hard ahead of the domestic season to last the whole season. Yes, unfortunately, a soft tissue injury happened since I am playing days’ cricket after almost a year. I hope I recover soon but my brain is still of an 18-year-old. It wants to keep on playing but I have to listen to my body as well. But as long as the body can be in space and I feel passionate about going through the grind, I will keep going. The moment I don’t feel like going through paces after getting up one morning, I will be done with it.
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