Who will spearhead the Indian pace attack during the ICC Champions Trophy? Ishant Sharma is certainly not putting his hand up right now. His Indian Premier League performance for Sunrisers Hyderabad not worth a mention, Ishant's confidence will be tested over the next fortnight here in the United Kingdom.
Former Pakistan pace legend Wasim Akram very recently compared Ishant's career to that of Mohammed Sami. Both had great starts, promised to take control of the new-ball attack but then fortunes nose-dived. Injuries and a general lack of self-belief scuppered their careers, but life has given Ishant many chances.
"The conditions here are just right for me. For both batsmen and bowlers it's going to be a challenge," Ishant said in a chat. The lanky pacer wasn't impressive in India's first warm-up match against Sri Lanka in Birmingham on June 1. Ishant leaked 41 runs in his six overs, but he can be forgiven for the fact that the Edgbaston track was an old and slow one that favoured the batsmen. The match, which India won by five wickets, produced close to 700 runs.
"It's not the number of runs we fast bowlers conceded but the fact that the pacers repeatedly missed the edge of the bat are signs that the ball was being pitched in the right areas," explained Ishant.
This will be Ishant's second Champions Trophy. He was part of the pace attack in the 2009 championship in South Africa that also had Ashish Nehra, RP Singh and Praveen Kumar. Ishant picked up three wickets in two matches, both games coming at Centurion, a pitch that usually has a lot for fast bowlers. This time, the 24-year-old wants to do better.
"I have a job to do but can't say that I am the boss of this pace attack. It's going to be a collective responsibility because there are others who will have to do as well. We are all of the same age and you can say I have a little more experience than a Bhuvneshwar (Kumar) and Vinay Kumar," said Ishant.
Ishant's career has climbed up and down ever since he made a mark in the 2007-2008 tour of Australia. The 6 feet 4 inch Delhi youngster, with a high arm action, consistently clocked 140 kmph and troubled batsmen at Perth. He finished the Test tour of Australia with figures of 6/358, an average of 59.66. On February 10, 2008, Sharma bagged four important wickets in the 4th ODI of CB Series against Australia. He ended the match with figures of 4/38 and was named Man of the Match.
During the 2008 Test series against Australia in India, Ishant was the leading wicket-taker, with 16, and was named man-of-the-series as India won 2-0. He thus became the first Indian paceman to win such an award in a Test series on Indian soil after Kapil Dev. who won the award in 1983.
"It's going to be a mental thing this time. The conditions look tempting but it will be suicidal to get carried away. If we can bowl in the right areas, the wickets will come and that's been our job at the nets," said Ishant.