I will always reckon that if I could have got through just one more over in our second innings, then we might still have won,” writes Ricky Ponting in his book Captain's Diary 2008, on the Perth Test during India's Oz tour of 2008. “Tall, lean, ultra-impressive Ishant Sharma, playing just his fourth Test and still eight-and-a-half months short of his 20th birthday, had bowled an awesome spell to me: seven overs when he was fast, aggressive and relentless, where I never felt as if I was truly 'in'.”
Ponting was determined not to let India make history—a team from the subcontinent beating Australia at Perth. Ishant was bowling well but not getting the breakthrough. Skipper Anil Kumble decided to take him off, but opener Virender Sehwag insisted that the rookie from his home side Delhi be given another over.
“But even with his (Ishant's) heroics, we were 2-117 seeking 413, I was 45 not out, Mike Hussey was 26 not out and I sensed Sharma was about to be taken off. However, Kumble gave his teenage quick one more over,” writes Ponting.
Punter nicked the first ball of that over to Rahul Dravid at the slips. And that led to the historic Australian collapse.
That “unbelievable spell of bowling” launched Ishant into fast bowling stardom.
Now, after a seven-year roller-coaster ride, his performance during India's recent three-Test tour of Sri Lanka has launched Ishant 2.0. He bowled incisively with pace and control, gave breakthroughs and maintained an impressive economy rate. He also unveiled a new side to himself—the very angry young man. Ishant 2.0 was in sync with skipper Virat Kohli's aggressive approach towards the game.
The series saw him take 13 wickets in three matches at an economy rate of 3.35. On the fifth day of the third Test (his 65th), Ishant became the eighth Indian and fourth pacer—after Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan—to join the 200-wicket club. His 200th victim was Angelo Mathews, who had scored a century and stood between India and glory.
Ishant's aggression captured the buoyed spirit of Team India, which clinched a Test series (2-1) in Sri Lanka after 22 years. It was India's first overseas series victory in four years and first ever series win on foreign soil after being one-down.
The aggression, however, proved costly for Ishant and the team, as he was handed a one-match suspension for his provocative gestures. Ishant will miss India's first Test against the visiting Proteas in Mohali next month.
But, Kohli gave the thumbs up to the 6.4ft-tall gentle giant's aggro avatar. Commenting on Ishant's on-field spat with Sri Lankan pacer Dhammika Prasad, Kohli said, “Actually, it benefited us in a way, as it fired Ishant up, and he delivered a match-winning performance. ...An angry fast bowler is a captain's delight.”
Former Indian pacer Atul Wassan says he was not worried by Ishant's wild theatrics. “He has been very docile in the past. Now he seems to be bowling well and the confidence is probably making him overtly aggressive,” he says.
Ishant, in fact, has been bowling well and maintaining consistency, something that was eluding the 27-year-old. Last year saw his best performance in terms of figures—38 wickets from 8 Tests—and that included the heroic 7 for 74 against England at Lord's.
However, not all are happy with Ishant's new-found belligerence. Former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi calls it a “pathetic display of aggression”.
Ishant's bowling guru Shravan Kumar, too, is upset. He feels Virat's ways are rubbing off on his ward.
“It is good that he [Ishant] got the suspension... sitting out of a match after a comeback, and when he is bowling well, will be a good lesson for him,” says Kumar. “I will speak to him about this when he returns to Delhi.”
As far as most Indian fans are concerned, all that counts is performance. Nothing else matters.