In Ishant’s own words, it has been “a rollercoaster ride”. It has, after all, taken 98 Tests and close to 14 years for the 32-year-old to join Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan as the only Indian pacers in the 300-Test wicket club.
“Yes, it has been a rollercoaster ride till now. I have enjoyed it. I have had a lot of experiences in my career. There have been mentors who have taught me how to bowl in the subcontinent and how to bowl when I travel abroad,” Ishant told the host broadcasters.
The Test journey started against Bangladesh in May 2007, but it was against Australia at the WACA, Perth, in 2008 that he made everybody sit up and take notice. The image of a long-haired, wiry Ishant giving Ricky Ponting a working over before dismissing him will be etched in memory for those that saw it. Ponting was the best in the business back then, but Ishant – all of 19 – was up for the challenge, famously responding to skipper Anil Kumble‘s call on Virender Sehwag‘s insistence of ‘ek aur daalega (will you bowl one more over)?’
It is a question many captains would have asked Ishant over the years, and the Delhi pacer seems to have never refused. He has run in tirelessly for India in the longest format and gone through many ups and downs but never shirked his responsibility.
Former India pacer L Balaji still recalls the time when Ishant and Virat Kohli made their first-class debuts for Delhi against TN in 2006. Having gone through his own spate of injuries, he puts Ishant’s achievements as a fast bowler playing in Indian conditions into perspective.
“It’s a great feat. It’s not so easy for a fast bowler to last so long in India. He is a complete team man. Whatever the team wants, he is the first to raise his hand. He has had injuries and setbacks, but he has kept going,” says Balaji.
The one criticism that Ishant faced in the early years of his career was to do with him not bowling a fuller length and taking wickets at a healthy strike rate. Since the start of 2018, though, he has made amends on that front. In his last 19 Tests, he has taken 74 scalps at a strike rate of 42.8 and an average below 20.
In Balaji’s view, Ishant didn’t get enough credit in those early years for his ability to hold an end up and do the ‘dirty work’.
“He has proved people wrong again and again. At times, you need to do a dirty job in the subcontinent. The records always don’t show the way you have bowled. In my book, you can add 100 wickets to Ishant’s tally for the pressure he has created on opposition teams,” he observed.
Ishant will turn 33 in September and with a young crop of fast bowlers emerging, there will be added pressure on him to sustain his level of performance. As teammate R Ashwin said at the end of the fourth day, Ishant’s work ethic should stand him in good stead.
“Ishant has been one of the most hardworking cricketers I have seen in the Indian dressing room. I really do wish to see him get to 400 and maybe even 500. It should be a roadmap for a lot of Indian quicks going forward,” Ashwin said.