Ishant Sharma "is looking good", a BCCI observer said after the India quick went through two long bowling spells* at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday. Looking on were Sunil Joshi, the chairman of selectors, and Rahul Dravid, the NCA chief, among others, as Sharma, who is on the path to recovery after suffering an abdominal muscle tear during IPL 2020, bowled for close to two hours overall, much of it at full tilt.
He bowled on one of the side pitches at the stadium, first for around 45 minutes during the lunch break of a 50-overs-a-side corporate cricket match and then for around an hour at the end of it. After his first bowling stint, Sharma went through a few basic stretching routines too, and then returned for a short fielding session, alternating between high and flat catches. While the club fixture was on, he was engaged in long discussions with Joshi outside the boundary rope.
Sharma, who is hoping to make his way to full fitness in time for India's Test series in Australia (starting December 17), has been named in the provisional squad, but has to be passed fit to make the trip. The signs on Wednesday were positive, with Sharma not appearing in any discomfort while bowling. His sessions were supervised by Paras Mhambrey, the former India fast bowler who is also the head coach of India's Under-19 team.
Sharma has been at the NCA, housed within the Chinnaswamy Stadium complex, since returning from his IPL stint with the Delhi Capitals because of the injury, details of which came to light when he complained of pain in his rib cage during a training session in Dubai. He was officially ruled out of the IPL on October 12, after having featured in just one game.
He had started from a short run-up in the morning, but then proceeded to mark his normal run-up with a measuring tape after just three deliveries. He bowled uninterrupted for the next 20 minutes, before taking a short break, stopping for chats with Mhambrey, who he has been working with since reaching the NCA last month, and the trainers. After that, in both sessions he proceeded to run in full tilt and swung the ball both ways, peppering the lone stump placed at the batting end. He got a few deliveries to rear up from a length too, and got them to carry nicely to the man placed behind the stump with a baseball mitt on, getting thumbs-ups more than once from Mhambrey.
Should he be declared fit - recently the NCA had communicated to the BCCI that Sharma would be ready to start bowling from November 18, after which he would need to prove his match fitness - Sharma will travel separately to Australia to meet up with his team-mates.
Sharma has been hampered by a number of injuries this year. Having picked up a five-for in the first Test in New Zealand at the start of the year, he missed the second because of an ankle injury. He is currently three matches short of becoming only the second Indian fast bowler to play 100 Test matches after Kapil Dev.
India will play two practice games in Sydney (December 6-8 and December 11-13) before travelling to Adelaide for the series-opening pink-ball Test, India's first day-night Test overseas.
* Updated at the end of the second bowling spell, at 11.55am GMT on November 18