'Never felt like I was bowling too much' - Ishant Sharma on his rise in cricket

Ishant has represented India in 105 Tests, 80 ODIs and 14 T20Is, claiming 434 wickets in international cricket.

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Ishant Sharma
Ishant Sharma. (Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)

India fast bowler Ishant Sharma took the viewers back in time to his origins as a bowler in Delhi's youth cricket circles, sharing how his bowling skills may just be a gift passed down from his father, and how his height and 'mohalla' team helped him rise through the ranks. As told to JioCinema:

When you started playing cricket as a child, did you expect to one day play 100 Test matches?

To be honest, numbers never excited me. The one thing that kept me going was the burning desire to play. The joy of playing, even if it was tennis-ball cricket where I would get paid Rs 500 to bowl, that was different. It made me feel like the richest person in the world. To be very honest, up until 30 Tests, I did not understand strike rate or average. Much later in my career, I realized that statistics were crucial to have a long career.

When did you start playing cricket and why did you choose to be a fast bowler?

I don’t know. When I was playing as a kid, I used to get out quickly. So, what would happen is that I would keep bowling and everyone loved to keep batting. Everyone loves to bat but not many like to bowl.

Where did you start playing cricket?

I’ve heard from my grandfather and uncle that my father was a very good fast bowler. I don’t know, I never saw it, so I used to be like ‘What are you saying’. My father was a very good fast bowler in school, but he had five brothers and family responsibilities meant he couldn’t pursue cricket as a career. So, I used to go with my uncle to watch matches. So, I was introduced to cricket at a very young age. After that, I was taken to tournaments around my house. Then I got introduced to playing tennis ball cricket where for my height they expected me to be a bowler.

Why not a tall spinner? Did tennis ball cricket have spinners?

I was tall, should definitely take advantage of that, no? There was a park in front of my house, so we used to play matches there. We had a mohalla team and we used to go to nearby places to play matches. We made a name for ourselves because we had, you must remember, Joginder Singh, who was from my area, and he used to play U-19 cricket for Delhi. It was a big deal at the time that someone from our area is playing for Delhi, so people heard of our team as the one with the U-19 Delhi player.

I had no idea what this is, I just wanted to bowl. He told me that I can’t let them hit two sixes in one over, back when we only had straight sixes, if you hit it square leg, you’d be out. I was anyway a bowler, so I bowled well in one match, then I bowled well in a second match, and so on. Tennis ball cricket was very famous in Delhi at the time.

There was ‘President XI’, who used to play professional tennis-ball cricket and have tournaments for one or two lakhs prize money back in the day. They offered me to bowl for them, so that’s how my journey started. Then someone told me that I am a good bowler so I should join a club, so I joined a club.

Where did you start playing organized cricket considering you debuted for India at 19?

I started playing season ball cricket in 10th standard, before that I played tennis ball. I started looking at schools for admission in class 10th but no school was willing to take me. I tried in your school (points to Aakash), government schools, and public schools as well. School cricket was very good back then because if you shone in school cricket, you could be selected for junior cricket representing Delhi. I told Shravan Sir that I wasn’t getting admission anywhere, so that’s when he helped me get admission into Ganga International School.

Sir had a simple practice system, which was we had to practice for seven days and keep bowling until daylight was gone. I joined various clubs and when I joined one particular club, they had bowling practice for one hour, maximum one-and-a-half hours. On my first day bowling at Sir’s club, my entire body was hurting. I had never experienced pain like this in my life, even my mother was asking me what happened.

I spiked a fever because I didn’t have a habit of bowling the entire day. My mother told me to get medicines from the doctor, but the doctor said my body is perfectly fine. No illness or fever, so my father called Sir and told him what happened. Sir explained something to my father that he never told me. He just told me that nothing had happened and I should eat something and sleep. He said I’d be fine in the morning and I was perfectly fine in the morning.

Before school would start in the mornings, my PT Sir would make me run. So, I would run before school and then start attending classes. Teachers didn’t like me as I would rarely go to school, by the time I was already playing for Delhi U-17. The teachers that didn’t like me would regularly insult me regularly, even after playing U-19 India. I used to tell them to be a little respectful, but they would tell me what will I achieve in life by playing for India U-19? I just said ‘Madam, I’ll just get a job somewhere.’

The mindset of a middle-class family is what it is. My dad would say that if I can play First Class cricket or the Ranji Trophy, at least I’d get a good job somewhere because I didn’t end up studying after class 10. How would I get a job and the background my father came from, he didn’t want me to have to work like that. Due to that, he encouraged me to play because at least I would secure my future by being eligible for jobs through sports quota. My parents supported me a lot.

They didn’t think it was a gamble?

There was a reason behind that as well. The first time I properly joined a club, I ended up playing for Delhi U-17, so they thought that something would come out of it. That year, I took 13 wickets against Haryana in a match and I got a zonal selection as well. So, within a year, I went from Delhi U-17 to Ranji Trophy. Mithun (Manhas) bhaiya was my captain.

We made you bowl a lot... You bowled 34 overs in the first innings

I told you Aakash bhaiya, I never felt like that was bowling too much because you have spent bowling seven days a week from 1 o’clock till sunset, before that when you had to bring the mat and the wickets. When it’s raining after that, you have to put the mat down for not yourself but the other kids that will come by nailing it to the ground. The wicket used to be there but our practice wouldn’t start because others would be practicing, so how much could the groundsman roll? I learned how to use the roller as well, and after that, we used to start bowling. So, the body was cut for bowling as much as possible and there was never a feeling that I was bowling too much.

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