200 wickets and ugly send-offs

Ishant Sharma has assumed the role of the leader of India’s pace pack, and what the national team is counting on him to do is to size up the rival team’s top order and take wickets without acting against the spirit of the game.

After the third Test against Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo, Ishant Sharma was congratulated for achieving a personal milestone — 200 wickets in the traditional form of the game. The Indian fast bowler was also castigated for bad behaviour on the field.

The ICC statement explained that Sharma was charged of “using language, actions or gestures which disparage or which could provoke an aggressive reaction from a batsman upon his/her dismissal during an international match.” The statement went on to say, “This was the third time that Sharma had been found guilty of giving the dismissed batsman (Upul Tharanaga this time) a send-off during the series. Therefore, he has been suspended for his next match, and he will miss India’s first Test against South Africa in Mohali.”

Following some unpleasant incidents during the SSC Test, in which three Sri Lankans were ticked off, Match Referee Andy Pycroft said: “Monday’s (August 31) incidents were not good advertisements for international cricket. These experienced cricketers forgot their fundamental responsibilities of respecting their opponents as well as the umpires, and got involved in incidents, which were clearly against the spirit of the game. Their actions cannot be condoned and must be discouraged.”

The ICC has always worked towards maintaining the spirit of the game and is ready to come down hard on players who behave badly on the field. In the circumstances, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has to counsel and caution Sharma; his repeated acts of indiscipline have resulted in his expulsion from the opening Test against South Africa from November 5.

While Sharma’s transgressions have been dealt with appropriately by the ICC, the lanky fast bowler was lauded for taking his 200th wicket in his 65th Test. There is nothing extraordinary about the achievement when compared with what other fast bowlers have accomplished in around the same number of Tests. In fact, the discerning have been utterly dismayed over Sharma’s efforts, especially after he had demonstrated great skill allied with speed on his first tour of Australia. Until date, his 20 wickets in 10 Tests in Australia have come at an expensive 62.15.

Sharma claimed his 200th wicket on the fifth day of the SSC Test and the Sri Lankan skipper, Angelo Mathews, was the prized scalp. It was a dismissal that hastened the home team’s defeat. Former India fast bowler Javagal Srinath was spontaneous in his praise of Sharma’s feat. “He’s played a lot of Test matches, right? It’s good. This is a reminder that he’s to look towards 350 wickets. He has to go for his next 150 wickets. This is how he’s to look at his career now,” said Srinath, who captured 236 wickets in 67 Test matches.

It is not easy for fast bowlers to maintain top fitness and excel across all formats of the game. Srinath highlighted this particular aspect, saying, “That’s the toughest challenge” the bowlers of his ilk are facing today and that adapting to the three different formats has been the key to success. Srinath also averred that the support systems (physical trainer and physios) do not guarantee wickets.

After an ordinary debut against Bangladesh in Mirpur in 2007, Sharma took five for 118 in the first innings of the drawn Test against Pakistan in Bangalore. Though he has been a part of 25 Indian Test wins, taking 90 wickets, it is only on 15 occasions that he has taken four or more wickets in an innings. The seven for 74 in the second innings of the Lord’s Test in the last English summer and the recent five for 54 in the first innings of the SSC Test stand out. According to Srinath, averages are only for discussions, but what really matters is how a bowler has bowled in a match.

From the time that Sharma has played (June 2007), England’s Jimmy Anderson has been the top-dog performer with 367 wickets in 91 Tests, followed by South Africa’s Dale Steyn with 360 wickets in 69. This accentuates the quality of skill and speed in these two bowlers. England’s Stuart Broad has 308 from 84, Australian Mitchell Johnson has 306 from 71, England’s off-spinner Graeme Swann took a stupendous 255 from 60 and Sri Lanka’s left-arm spinner Rangana Herath has an amazing 243 from 51. South Africa’s Morne Morkel, at 215 from 63 Tests, is also ahead of Sharma.

Sharma is the 65th bowler to take 200 wickets. He is only 27 and can hope to increase his tally to — as Srinath put it — 350.

Talking of England fast bowler Alf Gover, who played four Tests between 1936 and 1946, writer Robertson-Glasgow said, “Sometimes he might have been hasty or testy, but what’s the use of a fast bowler with no temperament? They are racehorses, not cows.”

Sharma has assumed the role of the leader of India’s pace pack, and what Indian cricket and the national team is counting on him — and his new ball partner Umesh Yadav — to do is to size up the rival team’s top order and take wickets without being volatile and resorting to ugly send-offs.