Having made his 100th Test appearance recently in Ahmedabad, Ishant Sharma has not just marked a stunning career in the Indian whites but also showed his longevity to stun everyone in world cricket. However, with a generation of talent waiting in the sheds, how long more should he feature?
In the last five years, Ishant Sharma has not just set a reputation for himself as the leader of the Indian pace attack but lived upto the reputation of it as well, with his continued success. Across 17 Tests since the start of 2016, Ishant has picked up 61 wickets, all at an average of 21.59 and an incredible strike-rate of 47, including three fifers. While not just that, he has ensured to be the bind, leader and controller of this Indian bowling attack away from home. He was there, when India won their first Test series in Australia, he was leading the bowling attack and standing as a prime example.
Incredibly, he led the bowling attack, tooth for a tooth - in Australia, England and New Zealand - half-fit, jet-lagged and on expectations aplenty but always got the job done for Virat Kohli. His influence on the team cannot be understated or dumbed down, however, the reality hits strong, like a black coffee on the other side. In the same time-span, across 16 Tests and 30 innings of bowling, Ishant has picked up just 41 wickets at home, at an average of 25.51.
While it might seem pretty impressive at the first glance and place, it is pertinent to know that 12 of the 20 wickets that he has taken during the last two years, has come against a Bangladesh side, which hadn’t faced pink-ball before. Not just that, against mighty opposition - in the form of England and South Africa - Ishant averages 26.66 and 62.50 in comparison to his 10.75 against Bangladesh.
Undoubtedly, Ishant is India’s work-horse, has been since the beginning of the last era and has put his sweat, blood and hard work into Indian cricket and it’s success in world cricket but his dominance at home has always been superseded by the spinners, who end up as the wicket-takers. In the sub-continent, where the pacers don’t have a lot of workloads, especially bowling the long-spells, the lanky pacer has been spared by the duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. In the recent series against England, it was further elucidated that Axar Patel and Ashwin were enough to pick the bulk of English wickets, with Ishant sparingly used by Kohli.
However, what is required and a definite requirement in the subcontinent is an enforcer, a pacer who picks wickets and comes up with the breakthrough, with the new-ball or the reverse-swinging one. During the same time, in the last two years, Umesh Yadav, having played just 8 innings, in four Tests, has picked up 23 wickets, including 11 against South Africa. Not just that, with India finding their feet - especially in terms of building a new crop of bowlers in the shed, having Ishant, who is one the last straw of his career at home is not merit-worthy.
While the pacers didn’t have much work to do during the Test series, Mohammed Siraj, who played in two Tests - in Chennai and Ahmedabad, picked up 3 wickets at an average of 22.66. Not just that, Siraj’s home record, especially in domestic cricket - 168 wickets at an average of 23.90 and a strike-rate of 46.4 is extremely appealing. With Ishant being a prerequisite for the away tour and his form on the downfall in the country, India should rather invest their immediate future in Mohammed Siraj - a bowler who can not just be an enforcer but also could control the game and be a game-changer.
In the fourth Test, against England, in Ahmedabad, where the conditions were slightly favouring the pacers - it was Mohammed Siraj’s spell which changed the course of the English innings. The Hyderabad pacer, who came on to bowl with the new-ball, picked up the important wickets of Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root - both of which came by the tailing delivery, which not just caught the two English batsmen by surprise but also for pace. Relatively, they have found it easy to battle against Ishant Sharma with the older delivery, unlike Siraj.
Purely on the basis of merit, India are likely to employ no more than a two-man pace attack and when the entire team is fit - Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Siraj - India are not going to favour and go with Ishant Sharma, who isn’t as pacy as Yadav is and neither can tail the ball with that consistency as Mohammed Shami could, which makes him a less likely option to employ.
Despite Shami’s fitness, in the last two years - the right-arm pacer has picked up 24 wickets, at an average of 15.04 with a strike-rate of 33.5, which suggests that he would be a sure-shot starter when fit. When India have a plethora of pace bowling options, especially at home, purely on the basis of merit - it is only a matter of time before Ishant Sharma is axed from the squad, becoming an away specialist.
Over the last few months, Siraj has shown himself as a rare breed of talent in the country - especially on the slow and sluggish surface, where his pace has often made the batsmen struggle. In his short Test career, where most of the games have come away from home, Siraj has picked up 16 wickets, at an average of 28, showcasing himself as a prime option for Kohli, especially given that his fitness levels are extremely high, as seen in Australia.
For Ishant Sharma, the man who has carried the Indian bowling in the past by his shoulder - it would be a tough pill to swallow but for Kohli, who has believed in the passage of players that come from the feeder system - it is not an end of the light but another outlet for talent to come through. At home, even on merit - as per the statistics, Ishant shouldn’t play!