Ishant Sharma 100th Test: Sandhu & Ghavri reveal, ‘what makes Ishant Sharma so special’

India vs England 3rd Test – Ishant Sharma 100th Test: Ishant Sharma was a toddler at age 1 when Kapil Dev played his 100th Test, now he is set to be capped a 100th time in Test as India plays England in the 3rd Test match at Motera Cricket Stadium.
With the red cherry in his hand, Ishant Sharma has always appeared to be full of beans. A long and robust run up to the bowling crease, energetic body action and flowing mane was how he has been captured by cameras in live international matches.  His aggressive responses and making  funny faces did not go down well with many, but that was part of him. As a young colt, he impressed one and all, and after taking a bagful in his first season for Delhi, he made his India debut in the Test match against Bangladesh at Mirpur in hot and humid May in 2007. Rahul Dravid was his captain then.
Well, thirteen years on, the 32-year-old is all set to be capped by India for the 100th time in a Test match. Thirty-one years ago at the National Stadium, Karachi, Kapil Dev, who had arrived as a ‘Haryana Express’ in 1978 from the cricketing outbacks of Chandigarh, became the first Indian fast bowler to play 100 Tests. So, it’s been a long time coming from another Indian fast bowler.
The arrival of Ishant —  one among the eight players with a Sharma surname to play Test cricket – the others being Ajay Sharma, Chetan Sharma (now Chairman of the BCCI Senior Selection Committee), Gopal Sharma, Karn Sharma, Parthasarathy Sharma, Rohit Sharma and Sanjeev Sharma — in the Indian cricketing horizon was refreshing, but many of his ilk believe that he ought to have thrown better results that what he has achieved. 
Ishant Sharma’s 100th Test: Ishant Sharma 2.0 more lethal, more knowledgable 
It’s because of his poor form and spate of injuries that he missed playing 45 Test matches – after his debut in 2007. India has won 57.78 per cent of the 45 Tests India played without Sharma and in the 99 Tests he has played, India’s winning percentage is 45.45. He was off colour in the calendar years 2015, 2016 and 2017, before he caught Indian and world cricket’s imagination with spectacular showing in 2018 and 2019 taking 41 wickets at 21.80 and 25 wickets at 15.56, respectively.
He played his part in the away series in England (18 wickets in 2018), in Australia (wickets in the 2018-19 series) and in West Indies (11 wickets in 2019). As a result of his renewed vigour and consistent manipulation of the red ball, his numbers showed a marked improvement from 2018 (20 Tests, 76 wickets at 19.34) to the second Test against England in Chennai. An abdominal ailment he suffered while playing for Delhi Capitals in the UAE last year ruled him out of the full tour of Australia.  
Sharma is certain to play the pink-ball day-night Test in Ahmedabad from Wednesday (Feb. 24). In the only pink-ball Test he played against Bangladesh in Kolkata, he took 5 for 22 in 12 overs and 4 for 56 in 13 overs. He was not much in the picture in the first two Tests against England in Chennai because of the spinners ruling the roost there and he would hope for a better surface to make his 100th Test on a brand new pitch at Motera more fruitful and memorable.
Sharma will be the 12th Indian to play 100 Tests. The others are: Sachin Tendulkar (200), Rahul Dravid (163), Sunil Gavaskar (125), VVS Laxman (134), Virender Sehwag (103), Sourav Ganguly (113), Dilip Vengsarkar (116), Kapil Dev (131), Anil Kumble (132) and Harbhajan Singh (103). Sharma will become 70th in the history of Test cricket to play 100 matches.
Ishant Sharma 100th Test: Sandhu & Ghavri reveals, ‘what makes Ishant Sharma so special’
Former India left arm seamer, Karsan Ghavri, who along with Kapil Dev, took 183 wickets in 27 Tests, applauded Ishant’s long journey in the traditional format of the game: “It’s a very big landmark for a fast bowler to play 100 Test matches. Especially from India. Only Kapil and now Ishant. What makes the feat more remarkable is that he has missed many Test matches because of injury. Hats off to his hard work and dedication. Whenever he is fit, he is a regular in the Indian team. He has been an effective bowler in any condition.’’
Touching upon his form since 2018, Ghavri said: “He has had breaks because of injury and hence, when he returned to the ranks, his hunger to take wickets increased. On a comeback, one always wants to do well. He is training hard and bowling well. He has plenty of variety in his skillset. He has speed, accuracy; swings the ball both ways and bowls a good bouncer. He deserves to play 100 Test matches. He has earned it by sheer perseverance.’’
Ghavri also spoke about India’s rise as a fast bowling nation. “In the last few years, Indian fast bowlers have been doing extremely well in all conditions. India has a variety of fast bowlers now. We have a good bench strength. It is very strong; thanks to the BCCI which has set up the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. MRF has also contributed to the development of fast bowlers. All of them have together unearthed almost 15 fast bowlers for India in the last 15 or 20 years. In the last Test match at the Gabba (Brisbane) India did not have a genuine quick, still the likes of Mohammad Siraj, Shardul Thakur and T. Natarajan did the job. The supply line of fast bowlers will not stop now in any department, except in spin.’’
Reverting to Ishant’s impending milestone, Ghavri said: “Ishant bowls his heart out. He is a great trier. He doesn’t want to contain, he is a wicket-taking bowler. The combination of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav is lethal. Twenty years back, we were struggling. Today, everyone is talking about it. We had a mediocre attack. There was me and Kapil, Srinath and Prasad, and Zaheer and Ishant. Now there are four or five fast bowlers.’’
India’s 1983 World Cup star, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, appreciated Ishant’s desire to persevere in Test cricket. “It’s creditable for an Indian fast bowler, for that matter any bowler, to play hundred Test matches. Especially for someone like Ishant, who has had to comeback from injuries. He has kept the desire going. It’s not easy to give good displays on Indian pitches.’’
Sandhu pointed out Ishant’s flaws in his fledgling years in international cricket and in the first half of his career. “Earlier, he was not perfect with his back foot landing. There were technical issues. His seam position was not upright at the time of release. But in the last few years, he has improved in that area. His balance is much better, rhythm and line is much better which was not the case perhaps in his first 50 Test matches. In his first 50 Test matches, he used to bowl one good spell and then one or two ordinary spells. He did not control his line and length. Now everything is in good control; seam position and line and length. And this has reflected in the results.’’
Ishant and Zaheer Khan have taken 120 wickets in 18 Tests and 109 wickets in 15 Tests teaming up with Umesh Yadav. “To me, Zaheer was a bowler who had the skills, and one expected something to happen; it was not the same with Ishant. He did not look like a frontline bowler. One expects something to happen even when Mohammad Shami has the ball. But Ishant has improved by leaps and bounds in the last 25 to 30 Test matches. Once you get injured, it’s not easy to get the motivation levels high. Ishant is good now in hitting the line and length, pitching it up a little more to make things uncertain for the batsman to negotiate.’’
Sandhu averred that James Anderson was a class apart in the first Test in Chennai. “If I compare Ishant with James Anderson in the first Test, I would say that the English bowler was more intelligent. He knew the surface and bowled leg-cutters and in-swing and got the ball to seam in. Ishant showed pace. Even initially, Zaheer had pace, but in the second half of his career he demonstrated the skill aspect of the game. That’s why he became dangerous and effective. He started bowling like (Wasim) Akram, bowling reverse swing and showing more control over line and length. And he got the batsman out. Zaheer used to outthink the batsman.
” I cannot say that with Ishant. Zaheer used to trap the batsman, Ishant will trust his line and length and keep bowling to a plan and wait for the batsman to make a mistake. All said and done, it’s a great feat to play 100 Tests,’’ trailed off Sandhu.
G.Viswanath, has spent watching and reporting cricket in Mumbai for over four decades. Was with India’s leading national daily ‘The Hindu’ for 36 years and prior to that for three years with ‘sportsweek’. Has covered international cricket for ‘The Hindu’ in England, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Canada, Singapore, Holland.