File photo of India fast bowler Ishant Sharma. (AFP)
At an age when fast bowlers toil in the domestic circuit striving to break into the national squad, 25-year-old Ishant Sharma is already a veteran of 51 Tests. And with that wealth of experience, a bowler is expected to graduate into the leader of an attack. Sadly, Ishant hasn't.
Ishant made his debut at the age of 19 in 2007, and the cricket world took notice when Adam Gilchrist called him "lethal". But the six years since then have seen Ishant wax and wane between disappointing and average, with an exceptional performance coming only as a flash in the pan.
The two ODIs against Australia in the ongoing series have, if anything, only exposed Ishant as a self-confessed leader of the attack. Picked ahead of Umesh Yadav, who bowls at a far consistent pace than Ishant and has a knack of picking wickets, Ishant is clearly flirting with danger. Unless he performs in Mohali, there's likelihood of him being sliced off when selectors pick the squad for the last four ODIs.
In Pune, Ishant was taken for 8 runs an over and in Jaipur 7.77 - that after conceding 13 runs an over in the one-off T20. On the same tracks, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who clocks far less speed and relies just on the new ball, recorded an economy rate of under six, after a spell of 3 for 35 in the T20. That ends the debate centered around flat decks. If a bowler who is yet to complete an year in international cricket can perform, Ishant's incompetency stands unpardonable.
The story falls flat if we concentrate just on the 67 ODIs Ishant has played. His economy rate in the first 15 overs is 5.33 while in the last 10 it increases to 7.38. Some captains may still bargain that for wickets, but Ishant is yet to touch the figure of 100 ODI wickets and has not even a single five-wicket haul to his credit.
After the first ODI in Pune, Virat Kohli came out in Ishant's defence. "You can't just write off somebody like that," Kohli had said. It's not about writing off. If that was the case, Ishant would not have spent six years in international cricket.
There's something called consistency, which Ishant has seriously lacked throughout his career. If he works his heart out in the nets, it doesn't reflect on the field, in that he continues to err in length despite being clobbered off the same spot. It gives an impression that he isn't learning from his mistakes, which is a serious offence when you are the most experienced bowler in the squad.
With Mohammad Shami and Jaydev Unadkat sitting in the dug out, Umesh Yadav on the brink of a comeback and a fit-again Varun Aaron back to bowling, Ishant is clearly flirting with danger.