The tragic case of Ishant Sharma

To cynics, satirists and cartoonists, the injured Ishant Sharma would not be sulking after leaving his World Cup mates in Australia where they look set to endure another set of hard days.

Spoof lovers would imagine him letting his hair down at home in New Delhi, visiting a hair-cutting saloon for a crop which will delight South Africa pace expert Fanie de Villiers who always wants to see Ishant bowling without his mane being all over his face or even joining the bandwagon of former players on television news channels for the World Cup.

With Ishant Sharma sitting out the World Cup with an  ankle injury, spoof lovers would imagine him letting his hair down at home in New Delhi or visiting a hair-cutting saloon for a crop which will delight South Africa pace expert Fanie de Villiers who always wants to see Ishant bowling without his mane being all over his face... Pic/Getty Images
With Ishant Sharma sitting out the World Cup with an  ankle injury, spoof lovers would imagine him letting his hair down at home in New Delhi or visiting a hair-cutting saloon for a crop which will delight South Africa pace expert Fanie de Villiers who always wants to see Ishant bowling without his mane being all over his face... Pic/Getty Images

In their book, Ishant would be happy to be away from the action, which doesn’t lend itself to visions of success for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s beleaguered team in Australia.

On a more serious note, Ishant would be down in physical strength and spirit. It’s wound-licking time for the tall fast bowler whose ankle injury has prevented him from playing a World Cup lesser fast bowlers have figured in more than just once.

A fast bowler, who had the best of batsmen on the hop during the 2007-08 tour of Australia and promised so much, is now known more for his injuries than skill. Australian icon Steve Waugh, who is not given to hyperbole, called him the next best thing in Indian cricket. The young, exciting Ishant gave the fast-bowling starved country hope, but what followed was despair. It’s a tragedy that has probably been under-played.

When I got hold of Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting’s respective autobiographies, the first thing I did was to find out what these two Australian greats had written about Ishant in the summer of 2007-08. Gilchrist wrote in True Colours, referring to the Perth Test which India famously won after the ugly Sydneygate controversy: “They (India) again unleashed Ishant Sharma, who bowled an amazing spell to Punter. It only added to my respect for their cricketing talent. I could see these young guys coming through with indomitable self-belief. I happily went into their changing room after play and congratulated them.”

Ponting also referred to the Perth Test in his tome Ponting at the Close of Play: “I was 24 not out and keen to make some history (chasing an Australian record fourth innings score of 413), but unfortunately their young quick Ishant Sharma delivered a fantastic spell in the half-hour before lunch. I revelled in the contest and nearly survived, but he got me, caught at slip, in what would probably have been his final over.”

Admittedly, it’s seven years, but there are no survivors from the pace attack of Ishant, RP Singh and Irfan Pathan, the player who many forget was the man of the match in that turnaround Test in Perth, India’s one and only Test victory at the pace-famed venue. Ankle injuries can be as nasty as their back counterparts. Remember Vinod Kambli, who went in as substitute for his captain Mohammed Azharuddin in the Cuttack one-day international against Zimbabwe in 1998, got injured and took nearly a year to make one of his many comebacks in the Indian team.

It was good to hear Ishant indicating that he was honest to the team management about not being up to it, which made the fitness test unnecessary. He didn’t make a supreme sacrifice by being realistic, but the history of the game is littered with examples of players playing through injury.

India’s World Cup chances get dimmer with Ishant not being part of the team, but who is to say Mohit Sharma will be a poor replacement. Ishant should know because he got his big chance to represent India when Munaf Patel was injured on the 2007 tour of Bangladesh.

One hopes Ishant comes back stronger. With Delhi making the knock out round of the Ranji Trophy, he may just be able to assist his state team if they progress to the March 8 final in Mumbai.

At 26, he has many years ahead of him, but as the late Peter Roebuck once wrote about him after an unrewarding day’s play in the 2010 Mohali Test against Australia, “Ishant does not need pampering but he does need mentoring. Otherwise he will not fulfil his potential, and that is a road paved with sorrow.”

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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