Ahmedabad: Only three bowlers in the history of Indian cricket have played 100 Test matches. Ishant Sharma will make that four in the third Test against England.
For over a decade Sharma has been the spearhead of India’s fast-bowling attack, producing a level of quality that will only be fully appreciated when he’s no longer around to lead the line.
The 32-year-old has already achieved one milestone during the ongoing England series, passing 300 Test wickets. And on Wednesday he will reach another significant moment in his career, playing in his 100th Test for India, becoming only the second Indian quick to do so, following in the footsteps of the legendary Kapil Dev.
Sharma burst onto the scene as a teenager with an ability to bowl extremely fast from an awkward height. But, impressively, his record in Test cricket has steadily improved as he has grown older, even when he began to lose that particularly eye-catching pace. And since the start of 2018, Sharma is averaging well under 20 with the ball.
So, what is the secret to his longevity as a Test bowler?
Sharma says it is the pressure he puts on himself to make an impact in every single spell.
“Everyone tells me I am a senior player,” he said in an interview in 2019. “But how do you become a senior? Not by the amount of years you have played. Seniority should be by the amount of wickets you take.
“People will call me senior when I take wickets at a crucial time. That is why I feel every match I play is crucial for me. That is my mindset.”
India’s captain Virat Kohli sung the praises of his friend ahead of the third Test in Ahmedabad, revealing he was in fact the person to inform a sleepy Sharma about his first India call-up.
“I have known Ishant for many years now,” Kohli said. “He started playing state cricket with me from his first season onwards. We have been roommates for many years in state cricket, in Ranji Trophy cricket. When he first got selected for India, he was fast asleep in the afternoon, and I had to kick him off the bed and say you have been selected. And he wouldn’t believe me. That’s how far we go back.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. Playing 100 Test matches as a fast bowler is no mean feat. Especially in our conditions where things get so difficult. But he persevered, he kept working hard. That’s been his essence from day one.”
Playing so much of a Test career in Indian conditions was never likely to see Sharma rival the raw statistics of many of the other leading quicks in the game’s history. But a measure of his quality has been the consistent impact he has made overseas. Just shy of two-thirds of his international wickets have come outside of India, and he has excelled in a variety of conditions, producing match-defining spells around the world.
Three such spells spring to mind. Sharma announced to the world that he was a threat in all conditions with a brilliant 6/55 against the West Indies in Bridgetown in 2011. That match ended in a draw, not for Sharma’s lack of trying. And New Zealand also clung on for a draw in Wellington in February 2014 despite his blistering figures of 6/51 in the first innings. But, later that same year, a Sharma spell did steer India to a famous victory, as he dismantled England in the second innings at Lord’s, running through the home side to finish with figures of 7/74.
Sharma continues to excel on the world stage 14 years after his Test debut. And he shows no intention of hanging up his boots any time soon, saying in late 2020 that he intends to continue making himself available for India for as long as “his body allows”.