The mentor is pained at the pupil’s rapid decline as a bowler of immense “potency.” The sight of Ishant Sharma being “clobbered” around even by tail-enders has left Sharvan Kumar “sad” and “perplexed” at his student’s unending struggle.
Slammed for 52 runs in the T20 at Rajkot, and for 56 on Sunday night at Pune in the first ODI against Australia, Ishant has looked lost, and mediocre even, unable to arrest the inconsistency that has plagued him in recent times. Hailed as a spearhead once, the lanky fast bowler has failed to live up to the promise for many reasons; the key one, as Sharvan insists, being “lack of focus.”
How does Sharvan plan to help Ishant?
“I would love to but for that to happen he has to come to me,” says Sharvan.
Ishant has not visited his coach for some time now.
“There are a few issues, but the prime reason is he is lacking in focus. After the ankle operation (in April) he has not come to me. I have not watched him in long sessions, a bit here and there on television. That doesn’t help. I am disappointed with his bowling. Most of us are,” Sharvan says.
Is he the same bowler who tormented Ricky Ponting in Australia five years ago, making the batsman hop and grope for the ball? “He is not even a shadow of that wonderful bowler, and I don’t blame him solely for the situation he is in,” asserts Manoj Prabhakar, who worked with Ishant closely during his stint as coach of the Delhi team a couple of years back.
Prabhakar questions the wisdom behind forcing Ishant to play in all the three formats of the game. “Sometimes, his first over looks like the last one. Speed was his forte. Not anymore. Fast bowling is not about just hurling the ball at disconcerting speed. You have to have skills — like the yorker, the slower one, swing and seam. With advanced video analysis available, one has to keep working and innovating. Ishant looks stagnant,” said Prabhakar, a bowler who had his limitations but not in terms of variety.
The pressure has got to Ishant, and it reflects in his reaction after being hit. That helpless look on his face is what hurts Prabhakar the most.
“He looks so lonely,” he says.
In difficult times, Prabhakar emphasises, the bowler needs to be spoken to and encouraged consistently.
“He is your senior-most bowler now, and is not even able to land the ball on the seam. I don’t understand this business of trying a bouncer with the cross-seam. He is not (Dale) Steyn. You can do that with Steyn’s speed. His wrist position is faulty. I never saw Kapil (Dev) ever struggling to get the wrist position right. I am concerned for Ishant because he is India’s ‘A’ grade bowler.”
Wrist position is the problem, agrees Venkatesh Prasad, who has worked on Ishant in the past.
“He must take responsibility now, and not play second fiddle. Is he not the strike bowler? I am sure he will be back as a bowler to fear provided he works on his wrist position. You have to land on the seam and come out of this cross-seam syndrome,” says Prasad.
Most modern bowlers, observes Prabhakar, do not use the crease.
“It is an aspect that a bowler has to develop over a period of time. I am sorry to see Ishant clueless in this regard. He is not able to bowl yorkers from an angle. His slower one has become predictable. He can learn from (Lasith) Malinga. The difference between his slower ball and his normal delivery is a good 20 kmph. That unsettles the batsman. Ishant and Bhuvaneshwar (Kumar) should also learn to bowl the in-swing selectively,” Prabhakar says.
After coming to grief on the placid tracks at Rajkot and Pune, Ishant will hope to make an impact at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium here.
The pitch has a tinge of grass and traditional bounce. Encouraging for Ishant but the Indian camp would be wary too. Mitchell Johnson bowled at 150-plus the other night!