Teenaged fast bowler Ishant displays great talent

By K. Datta, IANS

New Delhi : “Watch out for this boy Ishant Sharma,” Sarfaraz Nawaz had said when Pakistan’s controversial original sultan of swing bowling was in Delhi a little over a year ago on a brief coaching assignment.

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Whether or not Sarfaraz’s lessons at the Delhi Cricket Association nets actually put the 6.5-foot tall schoolboy on the road to progress and now instant fame, no one can say for sure.

With the 18-year-old coming good against the Pakistanis, one thing is certain – the wily Sarfaraz, who knows all that anyone has to know about the business of fast bowling, can also spot a fast bowler with a future.

The five-wicket bag on the fourth day of the third Test against Pakistan must have forced those who doubted his preparedness for Test cricket to take back their words.

Avidly seizing the opportunity that came his way after R.P. Singh and S. Sreesanth were unavailable because of injuries, the teenager, wisely handled by captain Anil “Bhai” Kumble who is almost twice the age of the rookie from a west Delhi neighbourhood, gave a spirited display to justify his selection over the heads of a few other contenders. After this, how could he be left out of the tour of Australia?

Informed students of the game could not have helped noticing how quick he was to learn from the experience of his toil on the third day when he met with limited success. He was a different bowler in his extended spell the following day. Gone were the nervousness and the resultant waywardness. The newfound confidence must have been the result of the big-brotherly advice of his captain.

One can’t remember a younger fast bowler having been selected for a tour abroad, and to Australia of all countries. There was the baby-faced wicketkeeper from Ahmedabad, Parthiv Patel, on a tour of England a few years ago who surprised the English with his guts with the bat when he not wearing the big gloves behind the stumps.

But fast bowling is a different, far tougher, business. Fast bowlers take a little more time to mature. Not even Kapil Dev had his Test baptism as early as Ishant has had. One would be not be surprised if Ishant has not had the first feel of a razor on his chin.

For all his height – who knows he may grow another inch or two – the kid is far from being a gangling adolescent. In fact, his run-up is quite athletic, with limbs under control. He bowls at a steady 135 kmph or so and has also cultivated a skilful in-swinger as part of his thus far limited armoury.

But he could pick up more speed and also learn other tricks of his trade with experience as he grows stronger and mentally sharper. He might also acquire the weapon of reverse swing. Perhaps Sarfaraz can give a few more lessons in an art he was one of the first, if not the very first, to practice.

Ishant is lucky he will playing under a captain with whom he has struck a happy rapport. The doubting Thomases are far outnumbered by those who believe the Delhi lad will be a success on the tour of Australia. For India’s sake one hopes the latter tribe is correct.

(K. Datta is a veteran sports journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected])