Ishant Sharma and Hero Worship

Sriram Veera snags an interview with man-of-the-moment Ishant Sharma, who got his groove back during the series against West Indies. Unlike most exchanges with athletes, this interview makes for a fascinating read, particularly Sharma’s ruminations on his time in the “wilderness” — by my count, the period extending from his attack on Ricky Ponting at Perth until this last series. Take this little revelation:

I was trying to copy Zaheer Khan’s action. No doubt he is a great bowler, but I guess I shouldn’t have tried to copy his action. We are entirely different in styles. […] When South Africa came to play in India, I started to copy him. I wanted to be a swing bowler. I was forgetting my natural strength of bounce and hitting the deck. When I bowl with my natural style, the ball automatically starts to inswing. That was my strong point, and I should have just stuck to that. That was my greatest mistake.

At first, I thought Sharma was completely and utterly daft for thinking he could become successful by simply copying another bowler’s action. I  thought a bowler’s action was sacred stuff; each one has his own signature (and each with his own tell). For Sharma to think he could just be like Zaheer by, um, being Zaheer betrays a comically childish perspective. It’s common among teenagers and cricket fans to copy the greats during pick-up games; to see an international player do the same is kind of shocking.

But, but, but: I stopped this train of thought in its tracks when I read Sharma is only 22 — a baby in both the athletic and real worlds. Imagine being that age and having colleagues like Khan, Tendulkar, and so on. What does that do to your psyche? How do you cope with the pressure and the inevitable failures? Consider also the particular charm of this confession. In the age of bowling coaches and video training and biomechanics and what not, Ishant Sharma has just confessed to changing his action because he wanted to be like his idol. That’s a beautiful thing — modern athletes rarely betray such naivete and wish-fulfillment. I guess we all have dreams.


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