It was June 23, 2013. While the good folk of Birmingham would have been warm inside their homes shielding themselves from a stormy weekend, the Indian cricket team were feeling the heat at Edgbaston. They were playing England in a rain-curtailed final of the ICC Champions Trophy. Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan had made a 64-run stand for the hosts as they kept the Three Lions alive chasing a target of 130 off 20 overs.
Ishant Sharma was bowling the 17th over of the England innings and his second ball was dispatched by Bopara for a six. He then had to bowl three versions of the third ball, two of which were wide. The one that he got right, he bowled it wide outside off and Morgan went after it. Instead of clearing deep midwicket, he only put it down the throat of Ravichandran Ashwin standing inside the circle. Morgan had crossed over before continuing his walk to the pavilion. Bopara was next to face Ishant and he too picked Ashwin, at square leg. Two balls, two big wickets and India had won the battle. They then went on to win the war and their pillage was a first ever individual Champions Trophy.
2013 and 2014 were years when Ishant proved naysayers wrong. In the latter year, he was back in the UK, this time at Lord’s, terrorising England batsmen. He took seven wickets in England’s second innings – five on the last day – to lead India to a famous 95-run win in the Test. He did contribute consistently in the longest format after that but failed to make a mark in limited overs.
Careers of most famous sportspersons would represent a mountain, with a long and arduous rise, a peak and a fall coming after it. A look at Ishant’s international career would show that the pacer has had two peaks. His first was not preceded by a long rise but rather a swift, almost perpendicular one that culminated in him travelling with the Indian squad to Australia in 2007. He went on to become an integral element in Anil Kumble’s bowling arsenal. The fact that he made someone as prolific and seasoned as Ricky Ponting his bunny in Australia at such an early stage of his career was a testimony to his prodigious ability. But the first fall came just as quickly as the rise.
Some have blamed it on injuries while others cite being overbowled in the IPL as a reason but Ishant somehow lost the venomous pace that made him dangerous in the first place. His next peak would come only six years later in 2014.
Once again, injuries caught up with him and he had to spend another lengthy spell in the sidelines after that England tour. In this time, talents such as Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami emerged. The fact remains that among all these names, it is only Yadav who can match the pace Ishant reaches when all is well. But all has been well for Ishant only too rarely. Naturally, for an Indian side that is expected to win every series and tournament they play, choosing him would have been a risk not worth taking.
The last chance for Ishant to make it to the Indian squad that travels to England for the 2017 Champions Trophy would have been in the recently concluded Indian Premier League. He went unbid in the auction but was later picked up by Kings XI Punjab. He bowled 18 overs in the tournament, which amounts to 108 balls, and emerged with no wickets to his name.
When the Indian squad was announced on May 8, it was confirmed. The man who took the two most important wickets for India in the final at Edgbaston, is not part of the squad that travels to UK for the 2017 Champions Trophy.