I remember when Ishant Sharma and I got very close. He was just a teenager who joined the team and didn’t want to sleep alone. Somehow he spent a night or two. The next day he came to see me and said, “Munnabhai, I’m not used to sleeping alone. There is always mum and dad at home. I’m a little scared. There is a slight fear. Can I sleep in your room tonight please? And I said to him, ‘Arre! What is there to ask? Come on, there’s enough room for both of us. And anyway, I’m not sleeping on the bed. not that habit; I just put a pillow on the floor and sleep. You can take the bed. “
So he only used his room to take a bath or to cool off in the morning. Since then, whenever I was on the Indian team, we slept in my room. We are more than brothers now. I feel so proud today that Ishu took 300 wickets and performed 98 tests – just two more for the 100! 300 test wickets is a big achievement, it’s like a batsman scoring 10,000 runs.
Ishant Sharma becomes third Indian driver after Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan to reach 300 wicket mark in tests
– ICC (@ICC) February 8, 2021
I first heard his name when I was in Bangalore playing a KSCA (Karnataka State Cricket Association) tournament. My teammates from the CGSB, a group largely based in Delhi, told me about this boy Ishant who was at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. A boy lamba, patla (tall, thin), they called him.
I had played for India at this point and he had just come up the ranks. He had the pace to play at a higher level; perhaps lacked a bit of consistency between lines and lengths. But I remember he already had a great swinger. I felt he would play for India, but I had no idea he would continue to play 100 test matches or take 300 wickets.
I remember he came to see me to talk. My nature is: “Jo bhi aaya mere paas, welcome! (Whoever comes to me, welcome!). We hit it off instantly. He kindly told me that I was one of his idols, because at one point I was called “India’s fastest bowler”.
The only thing that impressed me about Ishu back then, other than his winger, was that he was so eager to learn, to soak up the art of fast bowling. There are young players who are not shy and who will look for suggestions. He would be a little shy too, but was hungry. Almost as if he wanted to learn everything in one day. With each bullet he was asking for something. It is this hunger that has brought him here. Even now when I talk to him he asks me what he can do to improve his bowling alley.
Kudos to Ishant Sharma for taking 300 Test Wickets. He becomes the third Indian fast bowler after @therealkapildev & @ImZaheer to achieve this feat. #INDvsENG #IshantSharma #TeamIndia @ImIshant @BCCI @ICC @ SGanguly99 pic.twitter.com/joWIDNFXWB
– Dhanraj Nathwani (@DhanrajNathwani) February 8, 2021
A good boy
It has no vices – smoking, drinking or night clubs. His whole focus was on his game. But I remember one night in New Zealand in 2009. He got hit for a few limits, four and six. That evening, Ishu was upset. He said, “Today I’m going to drink! Aaj aapka bhai peeyega ”. I remember saying to him, “All my life I haven’t been drinking, and you haven’t been drinking until now. Why start now? I said, “This is the life of a bowler. We will be affected. You don’t have to take it to heart. Think and bounce. The game is long overdue, you shouldn’t be tense. “He listened to me but kept asking me, ‘How did I get hit like that?’
After his success on the 2007-08 Australian Tour, I remember telling him: “I saw a lot of top players in their prime, injury and career ended. Just take care of your body. God has been kind to us, let’s respect that. Not that he needs it. I was just proactive. Whenever I felt it was the right time, I gave her an injection of advice. He always listened to me like a little brother. Not just me, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag were also talking to him and he was listening.
He never gives up, he never complains, he never lacks intensity. Ishant Sharma is India’s most modest and unsung champion. Please stand up and applaud its 300 Test Wickets. The nation must recognize and salute this soldier
– Mohammad Kaif (@MohammadKaif) February 8, 2021
Possessive on the hair
We also made him cry. Literally once, in Sri Lanka. He had that long hair and Sehwag said, “Bring him on, we’ll cut his hair.” Ishant loves her hair. He shouted: “Gautam bhai, help, bachao!”. I grabbed it and Viru brought a pair of scissors. Viru was acting like he was cutting his hair and Ishant started to cry like a kid. I said, “Are you crazy? We will not cut your hair, please do not worry. We were all on the floor laughing. Such a good kid, but if anyone can cry over his hair, it’s Ishant Sharma.
You really have to look for a bad habit in it. Cleanliness of the room, perhaps. Everything would be a mess in his room, lying here and there. Except the space he would carefully prepare for pooja. The space that would have images of gods and goddesses, he would keep clean. He also has a habit of picking his nose. I kept asking him about it and he would say, “Whenever I’m alone and think of something, the finger automatically goes in!”
🗣️ ‘@ImIshant was one of the most diligent cricketers I have seen.@ ashwinravi99 was healthy in his praise for his #TeamIndia colleague and the third Indian pacemaker to have 300 or more test windows. @Paytm #INDvENG pic.twitter.com/Gt9434IRCz
– BCCI (@BCCI) February 8, 2021
Constant search for improvement
On a serious note, though, he’s someone who would be really pissed off if he didn’t bowling well. If the wickets didn’t go through, he would try different things. He’s almost possessive about his bowling, if you get the idea. He was so desperate to learn the art of the wicket that he was willing to go the extra mile. For his physical form and his bowling alley, he became a vegetarian. He always pushed me to work on my physical form; he needed a partner and I was with him.
I sincerely feel the tide turned when Zaheer Khan retired. He was a bit under Zaheer’s shadow. Ishant was the same Ishant but maybe, due to the aura and the presence of Zaheer, somewhere that Ishant couldn’t get through, hardly saw. When Zaheer was not there, Ishant performed his role. He knew he was the senior bowler, he was now the captain of the bowling alley. The pressure could have reached a lesser individual, especially one who had lived in the shadows, but he adapted perfectly and adapted beautifully to the occasion.
There was some concern about his white ball abilities. We have talked about this several times in the past. The thing is, he didn’t play too much with the white ball. It doesn’t go for races in the tests and there is another kind of pressure with the white ball that you would be racing. His thought was like a red bowler. The thought was different. Then he felt, “no, I can do that.” When thinking changes, improvement comes. Then he started to do well in the IPL.
What achievement @ImIshant Congratulations on becoming the third Indian pacemaker to reach the 300 wicket mark in tests. I’ve always admired your work ethic and your commitment to the game, especially this format. And you deserve this rich reward. #INDvsENG pic.twitter.com/kWwCN0zN47
– VVS Laxman (@ VVSLaxman281) February 8, 2021
One for the longest format
But it is also a blessing in disguise in some ways. He almost played 100 tests. As fast bowlers, all we wanted to do was play as many tests as possible. It was also his thought. All of our discussions about the game revolved around the cricket test only. You are using your mind to get test wickets. Nothing is easy.
The pride of playing 100 test matches must be something else. A player who plays 100 ODIS cannot match it. That is why even today Yuvraj Singh says his career does not seem complete. He still mentions it today.
Ishant also handled fame very well. However, in some ways, this is no surprise. This is mainly because of his nature, but also remember that he played in an era that had 10-11 legends. There was Tendulkar, Kumble, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Gambhir, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj – who else do you need in this locker room. Take a name and all are legends. It is my privilege to share the locker room with them all. And I’m also proud to have played with Ishant.
Whenever he needs advice, he calls me again. It is dilwala rishta, a relationship of the heart. I always pray that what I can’t accomplish, Ishant will. Ishu is about to play his 100th Test and has already taken 300 wickets. Mazaa aa gaya, khush ho gaya bhai. (Great fun, I’m so happy).
(Munaf Patel is a World Cup winner and former Indian coach. He was a senior member of the Indian squad when Ishant Sharma made his debut. Munaf spoke to Devendra Pandey).