On the sidelines of a Ranji Trophy match in 2019, Ishant Sharma had called himself “the last flicker in a lamp” while politely making his reluctance known to three journalists who had approached him for an interaction.
Ishant had played 96 Tests at that time and nearly 14 months later, during which time he missed five Tests due to an injury, one of Indian cricket’s most successful fast bowlers is still going strong. He is on course to become only the second Indian pacer, after the great Kapil Dev, to play in 100 Tests.
“Arre yaar mera interview karke kya karogey? Main toh bujhta huya diya hoon (Why do you want to interview me? I am like the last flicker in a lamp),” Ishant had said at the Kotla in 2019.
“I think I will say this with certainty that Ishant will be the last Indian fast bowler to play 100 Test matches,” former India wicketkeeper and Ishant’s former Delhi teammate and coach Vijay Dahiya said.’
“I don’t see anyone playing 100 Tests. With a majority of the fast bowlers preserving themselves for IPL and white-ball games, it will be increasingly difficult to play 100 Tests for India.”
Ishant’s friend for the last 16 years and current Delhi captain Pradeep Sangwan felt that even when Virat Kohli and Ishant attended Delhi’s U-17 trials, the pacer looked a class apart.
“He was so tall and because of his long hair, we used to tease him saying: ‘Dekh le bhai, lamba Shahrukh aa gaya (watch out brothers, the tall Shahrukh Khan has come (referring to the actor)’,” Sangwan said.
“But then even during those U-17 days, he was so tall and generated so much pace, you knew that he was special. And if you see when Virat was leading us at the 2008 U-19 World Cup, Ishant was already a Test player by then and didn’t play that tournament.”
His first 79 Test matches yielded 226 wickets and the last 20 have fetched him 76 wickets, which shows how he honed his skills over time.
“MS (Dhoni) used him as a defensive bowler who would hold one end up. Ishant was his man to do the job. You know why he has lasted this long, because it’s very important to know what your leader wants and deliver accordingly,” Dahiya said.
“He wasn’t the wicket-taking bowler but kudos to him, he did the job of bowling 20-plus overs a day, which primarily the spinners do in Tests,” he added.
It’s his hard work and ability to maintain fitness standards that allows him to bowl those eight to nine over spells Test after Test.
“He was bowling those spells at 18 years at a pace of 140-plus kmph. Today, he is nearing 33 and he is still bowling those long spells consistently,” said Sangwan.
“The best part about Ishant was that he escaped that grind of first-class cricket and was fast-tracked pretty early. The moment a fast bowler is stuck for three-plus years in Ranji Trophy, he can stagnate and compromise on his pace. Ishant didn’t have to endure that,” said Dahiya, who was also the pacer’s senior team coach.
“I still tell Ishant that it was his late movement that led to my early retirement as he was young and I was aging. I tell him tune mere budhaape mein maze le liye (You enjoyed at the expense of my old age),” added Dahiya.