“Very happy to see him enjoy his bowling over the last four-five years and really become that stalwart of the Indian fast-bowling group”
Virat Kohli kicked his sleeping room-mate, Ishant Sharma, out of the bed to inform him he had been selected for India. That was 15-odd years ago. Things haven’t changed much over time. To Sharma, the Ahmedabad Test starting Wednesday is just another Test; to Kohli, the fast bowler’s 100th is as good as the 150th for a batsman in modern cricket. On the eve of the Test, Kohli paid rich tribute to his “dear friend” and his attack’s spearhead.
“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 room-mates for many years in state cricket, in Ranji Trophy cricket. When he 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. Very hard-working guy, very honest about the game, about his ability, about what he brings to the table. Very self-assured.”
Looking at Sharma’s top-notch performances in the last four-five years, it is easy to forget he spent a majority of his career as the workhorse of an incomplete attack with some ordinary figures. Sharma’s turnaround began when he learnt under Jason Gillespie at Sussex how to bowl fuller without sacrificing his pace. It also coincided with India managing a more complete attack, which meant Sharma was not so easy to see off. His best years have also coincided with Kohli’s captaincy.
“I have just been very, very happy to see him enjoy his bowling over the last four-five years and really become that stalwart of Indian fast-bowling group”
“I was most excited to work with him and really bring the best out of him as an attacking fast bowler,” Kohli said. “Something that clicked immediately [when I took up captaincy]. He knows my mindset. He knows me inside out. There is a big trust factor. I know him inside out. I know he will respond to advice, he knows I am going to listen to his plans as well. I think it has worked really well for both of us. Not just for him as a fast bowler, but for me as a captain to have that kind of experience and the kind of consistency he brings along with the attacking lines and lengths he bowls.
“I have just been very, very happy to see him enjoy his bowling over the last four-five years and really become that stalwart of the Indian fast-bowling group. Couldn’t be happier for him. Really, really excited I am going to be present on the field when he plays his 100th game. To see the smile on his face and just run in and bowl will be great to watch for a dear friend of mine.”
Kohli said he was in awe of Sharma’s conditioning, motivation and commitment. “To maintain his body so well, to play 100 Tests, this longevity is rare to see among the fast bowlers today. Sometimes you lose motivation too. He has the skill, mind you, to play the shorter formats. If he wanted, he could have improved his four-over and ten-over cricket and could easily be a regular in IPL and present a case for himself in one-day cricket. But he dedicated all his commitment and attention to Test cricket, prioritised it. To play 100 Tests for a fast bowler is as good as 150 Tests for a batsman. I hope he plays for many more years and inspires the next group of fast bowlers too.”
Perhaps Sharma’s conditioning is too good for Kohli too, at least when you look at his full head of hair. “If you captain and wear helmets for a long time, you will also lose your hair,” Kohli joked. “If he bats for a long time, he will also lose his hair. Thankfully it doesn’t come down to that, and when it does his role is different.”