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Jul 04, 2014 at 12:54pm IST

Ishant Sharma: Leader of the attack or a worry?

Taking 20 wickets is often set as a marker to win Test matches, and a decent pace attack is expected to do that in helpful English conditions. That's precisely what could decide India's fortunes in the Test series against England, beginning July 9.

Most of the pre-series build-up has been around the questionable efficacy of India's young pace attack that, in the absence of left-out Zaheer Khan, will be headed by Ishant Sharma - who remains an enigma even after playing 55 Tests at the age of just 25.

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Ishant's age combined with experience and an ageing Zaheer's brittle fitness (side strain) got the former a ticket to London but with still question marks hanging over whether an inconsistent Ishant can lead a bowling attack where none of the others in the pack have ever played a Test in England.

Ishant Sharma: Leader of the attack or a worry?

Doubts remain whether an inconsistent Ishant can lead India's bowling attack, while none of the others in the pack have ever played a Test in England. (Getty Images)

Rahul Dravid, who has agreed to BCCI's request for a pep talk with the team ahead of the first Test, too believes that India's competitiveness will depends on the performance of their bowlers.

ALSO SEE India's unripe pace attack can leave England wounded

It will still be early summer in England and conditions loaded in favour of Indian seamers Ishant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Varun Aaron, Ishwar Pandey and Pankaj Singh - who will have no excuses for non-performance in India's first five-Test series in England since 1959.

"If India can find a couple of bowlers who can step up during the series, then I think they are in for a great series," Dravid said at a promotional event in Mumbai.

ALSO SEE Indian bowlers need to deliver: Dravid

The former captain, who led India to a Test series win in England in 2007, was quick to point out that it's time Ishant takes control. "This is a great opportunity for Ishant. It really should be his time to step up and say I am going to lead this attack and hopefully they [BCCI] will look after this attack in the next couple of years in the absence of Zaheer, who unfortunately isn't there."

Zaheer echoed Dravid's sentiments, saying that others will look up to Ishant, MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir - only players in the touring squad to have previously played a Test in England.

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"It is Ishant who has played the most number of matches [55 Tests] and has been around for a while. It is time he steps into that [leadership] role," Zaheer told ESPNCricinfo. "For Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar] and Shami, it is their first [England] tour, so they will look to Ishant and [bowling coach] Joe Dawes for inputs."

But the lanky Delhi paceman didn't have a series to remember in 2011, as did the other on that horrific tour of 2011 when India were wiped out 4-0. Ishant took just 11 wickets in that series and will be keen to right that wrong.

The fans haven't forgotten that either, heckling him on the boundary ropes in the tour game at Leicester, where Ishant began with a horrific four-over spell giving away 40-odd runs. He ended with figures of 2/64 in 9 overs, overstepping as many as 7 times.

Things got a bit better, but still wicketless and reckless, for Ishant on the opening day of the second tour match against Derbyshire, where his day-one figures read 0/49 in 12 overs. But the glaring stat was 9 no-balls. Clearly, he is struggling for rhythm having already overstepped 16 times.

Three years after India's ignominious 2011 tour of England, Ishant has started on the same inconsistent note, while he is expected to play a much bigger role as a senior member of the squad.

Few see him redeeming himself, and the enigma continues.

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