Ishant Sharma: From IPL’s most expensive bowler to a game-changing veteran

Ishant has played over 100 games in the IPL. (Source:

It was in 2008 that a young, tall, lanky Indian pacer, Ishant Sharma, outstripped the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Anil Kumble, and Muthiah Muralitharan, as well as Chaminda Vaas and Brett Lee, to be bought for $950,000 by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), making him the most expensive bowler in the first-ever IPL player auction. Ishant, standing at 6’4″ and still growing, was not even 20 at the time. He had only played in five Tests and seven ODIs at the time, and taken 12 and eight wickets.

What people saw of him in Australia really helped him attract bidders, especially the way he troubled Ricky Ponting, then Australian skipper and legendary batter, in Perth. A tall Indian pacer who could move the ball both ways at pace was considered a rare commodity in those days. With Ishant, there was promise and potential. However, despite being around since 2008, Ishant has never been one of the league’s legends.

Instead, he has a reputation for being one of the IPL’s perennial underachievers. He failed to grasp the constantly changing dynamics of T20 cricket, which led to his downfall in the shortest format. Having started his IPL journey with KKR, Ishant has since played for five more franchises, including Delhi Capitals (DC), his current team. The reason he couldn’t cement his place in any team was due to inconsistent performance, and a modest overall record of 88 wickets from 107 matches at an economy rate of 8.2. Certainly, these numbers aren’t great for someone who had the potential to be the ‘next big thing’ in Indian cricket.

Despite not having great success in the IPL, Ishant, with all his experience, was bought by Delhi in 2019. Having missed out on the entirety of the 2018 season, he repaid the trust by taking 13 wickets in 13 games at an economy rate of 7.67. Decent numbers for a player who was considered unfit for the format. Over the next two seasons, he could play only four games in total. It was a tough phase, as at the same time, he lost his place in the Indian team.

Last year, he made headlines when his knuckle-ball outfoxed Vijay Shankar. It was a dream delivery for many reasons. The ball prompted the legendary Dale Steyn to say: “Ishant just bowled the best knuckle-ball wicket I’ve ever seen.”

In the ongoing season, he floored a rampaging Andre Russell with a toe-crushing yorker. That was a delivery where he put in extra effort, and it paid off.

On Wednesday night, Ishant made the ball talk in Ahmedabad and got two of the most important wickets, Shubman Gill and David Miller. He was the star with the ball in the powerplay for the Capitals. Safe to say he triggered the horrendous batting which saw Gujarat Titans being bowled out for a paltry 89.

It seemed like Ishant came with a plan for Gill. At the age of 35, he is already at the fag end of his career. There is no realistic chance of him earning a recall in the Indian team. He last played a T20I more than a decade ago, in 2013. With new pacers coming in, Ishant has no real motivation to keep churning out performances for his team. He’s not even a regular for his state team, Delhi, as he keeps getting injured.

Despite all this, Ishant has sent his franchise a reminder that the so-called ‘Test specialist’ is good enough to play T20. Over the years with the Delhi Capitals, Ishant has honed his skills, fine-tuning his bowling to suit the shorter format. He has got nothing to prove or achieve. That he still keeps evolving as a bowler speaks volumes of his character. As we raise a toast for the IPL’s anniversary today, let’s also celebrate Ishant Sharma, who has been part of the journey from day one.