A case for KL Rahul to open and Ishan Kishan to keep wicket
Rahul was impressive with the gloves in the ODI World Cup, but experts are against the idea for South Africa Tests.
Pioneered by Adam Gilchrist, the new-age wicketkeeper doesn’t also bat; he bats first – preferably at a rapid pace - and also keeps. In Rishabh Pant, India found a rare talent who could bat in a similar manner. Pant has been out for a year now following injuries suffered in a car crash and it is being acutely felt by India in overseas Tests where he operated virtually like a world-class all-rounder.
This June in the World Test Championship final against Australia at The Oval, India went back to a traditional wicketkeeper in KS Bharat. There’s nothing to dislike about Bharat and his skill sets as a ‘keeper; he comes with a good domestic record. But in the absence of a genuine fast-bowling all-rounder, India requires much more with the bat from its ‘keeper.
They have already seen the upside of having Pant. The dynamic southpaw decimated bowlers and has Test hundreds in England, Australia and South Africa. How does India find a match-winning replacement for Pant?
KL Rahul being bracketed as a wicketkeeper in the Test squad for South Africa suggests that it is one left-field option the team management is open to. What does Rahul donning the gloves bring? For one, it allows India to lengthen their batting – Rahul at 5, Shreyas Iyer at 6 and Ravindra Jadeja at 7. Batting has been hard work on South African pitches – there were only two hundreds from both sides – by Rahul and Pant -- in the 2021-22 three-match series (SA won 2-1).
That move though would also certainly rule out the possibility of Rahul opening the batting with Rohit Sharma. Yashasvi Jaiswal, who is still finding his feet, would then become an automatic choice to face the difficult lengths Kagiso Rabada and Marco Jansen will bowl.
RAHUL, THE TEST OPENER
For someone who at 23 announced himself on the Test scene at Sydney, Rahul has taken far too long to carve a niche for himself. However, he was India’s highest run-scorer (226 runs) in the previous series in South Africa. All of Rahul’s runs came as an opener. That’s where he has batted for most of his Test career – 75 out of 91 innings.
Rahul’s impressive showing with the gloves in the recent ODI World Cup may have encouraged the selectors. But one learns that when the team was picked Rahul wasn’t the No.1 wicketkeeping choice, it was Ishan Kishan. The final call would be taken by coach Rahul Dravid and skipper Sharma in South Africa closer to the first Test starting on Boxing Day. Experts though believe Kishan with the gloves and Rahul as a specialist bat in the eleven would be a more prudent call.
“You would be putting too much pressure on Rahul by asking him to keep wicket in Tests, especially with the injury history that he has,” said former India wicketkeeper Kiran More. “His basics are correct. But if you want to keep in Tests, you need to start doing this regularly. That’s not possible because he plays all formats and is one of your main batters.”
Rahul has transitioned well from keeping in T20s to 50-over cricket. It could be argued that South African pitches are good to keep on thanks to the bounce and carry. But to do that over a 90-over day, or an even longer, can become considerably challenging. “The evening session is when your concentration is really tested. That’s when the batters are also tiring and catches or stumpings come. Without regular practice, you may not be up for it,” More said.
CLOSEST TO PANT
Kishan, coming from the same belt as MS Dhoni, is the specialist ‘keeper in the squad. While Pant’s one-handed pyrotechnics and the fear he can instil in the bowler are difficult to match, Kishan, also an attacking batter, comes the closest as a disruptive batting weapon. “That was the whole idea of playing Kishan in the West Indies – to have someone who can bat at a certain tempo in the lower middle-order. Bharat did not fit the bill,” said another former wicket-keeper Saba Karim.
Kishan scored his maiden Test fifty at Port of Spain. South Africa could be his opportunity to show he is made for sterner challenges and is good enough to bag bigger headlines than winning jackpots at IPL auctions.
Being a left-hander who can swing hard, Kishan would want to emulate another left-hander whose best international performances so far have come in Test cricket.
More is impressed with Kishan’s wicket-keeping skills. “He is a smart keeper and keen to play Test cricket. Rishabh improved his keeping considerably, but he had to work very hard for it. Ishan is quite natural, I feel.”
Scaling the South African fortress has proved to be nigh impossible for India. This will be their ninth attempt in 31 years; they better choose their personnel well.
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