With a physique and attitude that is reminiscent of a young Javagal Srinath, Ishant Sharma shot into prominence during the 2007-08 Test series in Australia. Standing at 6'4", his rhythmic, high-arm action allowed him to bowl at around 140 kph. For one who started serious cricket at 14, his rise was rapid and he made his Ranji Trophy debut at 18. An injury to Munaf Patel provided him an opening during India's tour of Bangladesh in May 2007 but it was in Australia where he caught the attention, prompting Steve Waugh to call him the next best thing in Indian cricket. He showed he could move the ball both ways and his probing spell in the second innings in Perth, where he set-up Ricky Ponting, is the stuff of folklore. He continued to impress in the one-day series, clocking more than 150kph once, and ended as India's highest wicket-taker in the triumphant campaign.
The glory days continued through his debut season, with a notable performance against South Africa, followed by 15 wickets in four Tests in the succesful home series against Australia in 2008, and a couple of strong shows in Sri Lanka in ODIs. By now Ishant was clearly Zaheer Khan's deputy in the Indian seam arsenal, but things have gone seriously wrong since. Some have blamed it on his being over-bowled, particularly on flat tracks in the IPL, while others point to a malaise that has afflicted all of India's new crop of fast bowlers. The fact remains that Ishant lost the most crucial aspect of his bowling - his pace. Without it, his natural short-of-a-good-length that had tormented batsmen of Ponting's calibre a season earlier lost its venom. Eventually the loss of pace led to a loss of self-confidence. The Indian selectors decided to be careful and began shielding him from the shorter formats of the game in 2009 in the hope that he would rediscover his zip. If he doesn't, he will wind up being one of the biggest tragedies of Indian cricket.