A bowler with immense possibilities

The 6ft-4in tall Ishant Sharma has a high-arm action which makes a batsman’s job harder. As a result, he is able to extract bounce. It’s the combination of pace, line and bounce that transforms the Delhi lad into such an exciting bowler, writes S. Dinakar.

It’s the line that he bowls. It’s a great line; it tests the batsmen and induces mistakes from them. Even the accomplished batsmen could give in when consistently probed in the corridor. He’s only 19, but Ishant Sharma is aware of this cricketing truth.

He is relentless as he attacks the batsman on or around the off-stump. From this area, Ishant can manoeuvre; he can bring the ball into the batsman, which is his stock ball, get it to straighten or seam away from the batsman. His away movement is subtle, but it can hurt.

Ishant sets up the batsmen with his off-cutters and nails them with the straighter ones or the away seamers. His pace does not provide the batsmen time to readjust.

Ishant is sharp, in fact very sharp. On a lively MCG pitch last Sunday (February 10), he almost breached the 150kmph mark. He made the seasoned Australian batsmen hurry with their strokes.

From the press box former Australian pace bowler Rodney Hogg craned his neck as Ishant rocketed one and said, “Mate, he has speed.” Hogg was fast himself and he knows.

Remarkably, for someone so young, the other elements too are in place. The tall Ishant — he is 6ft 4in — has a high-arm action which makes a batsman’s job harder. As a result, Sharma is able to extract bounce. It’s the combination of pace, line and bounce that transforms the Delhi lad into such an exciting bowler.

Ishant is a natural in the manner he runs in, gets into delivery stride and releases the ball. During the entire process, he Keeps gaining momentum. But then, pace bowling is a strenuous job. Muscles and joints are stretched and the body absorbs up to seven times its weight at the point of release.

Ishant has to be guarded against injuries. On the odd occasion he has pulled up in his run-up. He needs to be nurtured with care. Team India has to take care of this bowler with immense possibilities.

Given his attributes, it would be tempting for the team management to play him in every game. Bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad realises that a bowler should not be pushed.

Creditably, Ishant is not daunted by the big stage.

At the MCG, he bowled with heart and passion. Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds were gone in little time, prised out by deliveries leaving them. Ishant switches his line adeptly to the right and the left-handers. He is all charged up when given the new ball.

Ishant is not overawed by reputations either. In fact, he uses the stature of a cricketer as a stimulant. Ponting is among his favourite batsmen and he wants to get his wicket every time he bowls to him. “He hits the pitch hard and gets unexpected bounce on occasions,” said an appreciative Ponting. Ishant did just that during the stirring duel between the two in the Perth Test.

Ponting played and missed, was rapped on the pads and Ishant kept coming back at him. His ability to retain his intensity over long spells makes him a distinct threat. Stamina was as big a factor as skill in Ishant finally removing the Punter at Perth.

He appears similar to former Indian fast bowler Javagal Srinath in his methods — the pace and bounce, the incoming delivery and the straighter one. Ishant also uses his wrist in the manner Pakistan’s Mohammed Asif does. Consequently, Ishant, on occasions, has been able to swing the ball in the air and seam it off the pitch.

As his career progresses, Ishant will imbibe more of the finer aspects of bowling, the use of the crease and the variations in pace.

Santhakumaran Sreesanth appeared to enjoy sharing the new ball with Ishant. The speed the duo generated made people sit up. A few former Indian cricketers conceded that they had not seen a quicker new ball pair bowling for the country.

Sreesanth and Ishant can sting. Sreesanth swings the ball away and Ishant seams it in. Their methods would also be effective against a left-right combination.

The fitness concerns and the agony of missing an engrossing Test series have not quelled Sreesanth’s spirit. At the MCG, he swung the ball away at speeds of over 140kmph. Not many pacemen have a better seam position. If he tempers his aggression, Sreesanth could scalp-hunt more with Ishant.

There have been more gains for India on the tour of Australia. Irfan Pathan’s confidence is back. He is now able to bring the ball into the right-hander, a priceless delivery for a left-arm paceman. A stint at the MRF Pace Foundation enabled him to set right a glitch in his bowling action. He is now bowling with greater pace and rhythm.

The injured Rudra Pratap Singh bowled with great spirit in the Test series. Like Ishant, he can surprise batsmen with unexpected bounce.

Zaheer Khan, nursing an injury, is as crafty as they come and Munaf Patel has more cricket left in him.

India’s incisive pace attack proved to be one of the major factors in the country winning more matches away from the sub-continent. And someone like Ishant seems bound for glory.