After double high, Ishan Kishan hits a low
Picked for the Australia Tests, he has neither scored heavily nor played a match altering innings in white-ball cricket to be a straightforward selection in Rishabh Pant’s absence
This is a tricky passage of time. ODIs done and T20Is on the verge of ending, India will shift focus to a tough home Test series against Australia. Some white-ball specialists will stay on for the Tests. Like Ishan Kishan. With Rishabh Pant sidelined after his road accident, it’s a toss-up between Kishan and Srikar Bharat.
Ten years of keeping wicket on every type of Indian surface makes Bharat a natural choice. However, India are used to getting more out of this role and may probably want Kishan to be a like-for-like replacement for Pant. His batting form though is yet to inspire confidence.
A 126-ball double hundred last month— fastest in ODI cricket— should be good enough to settle any debate, but it isn’t that simple in Kishan’s case. He keeps falling into the trap of trying to graft when his primary role is that of an enforcer, to run away with the game irrespective of the conditions and opponents.
That’s what Pant did so well in IPL (366 runs at a S/R of 165.61 in 2017 and 684 runs at a S/R of 173.6 in 2018) in the lead-up to his Test debut in England in the summer of 2018. Kishan was at his prolific best during the South Africa tour last June when he ended the highest run-getter from either side, scoring 206 runs at a strike rate of 150.36. But in the 11 T20I innings since that tour, only thrice has he had a strike rate of 100 or more. His ODI record is also intriguing — he has a strike rate of 100 or more only thrice in 12 innings, each time hitting at least a fifty.
Since the last T20 World Cup, Kishan has played two T20Is in New Zealand, scored the ODI double hundred in Bangladesh, come home and opened the batting in the T20Is against Sri Lanka before batting in the middle-order in the ODIs and opening in the T20Is against New Zealand. He also scored a century for Jharkhand in the Ranji Trophy, coming in at No 6. There are definite indications Kishan is a very good red-ball player but it’s his India numbers, not Ranji statistics, that are likely to decide his Test selection. And they aren’t as compelling as they should be.
To be fair to Kishan, he hasn't got enough chances with India. And in ODIs, Shubman Gill will be preferred over him to open. Kishan knows the weight of numbers though. He was once the chosen one, picked ahead of the experienced Ricky Bhui to lead the U-19 team at the 2016 World Cup.
India lost the final to West Indies and Kishan finished with the worst average among batters (99 runs in six matches @12.16). Over time, Pant—his deputy at the World Cup— pulled ahead in the race to be India’s wicketkeeper-elect. The struggle continued through his IPL career though there were glimpses of Kishan’s potential in a 58-ball 99 against RCB in 2020, or the scarcely believable 32-ball 84 against SRH in the next edition. But those haven’t been able to cover up for the otherwise mediocre outings where his strike rates tend to take a beating.
Kishan maintains that red-ball cricket warrants a different approach. Speaking to team-mate Shubman Gill on the BCCI website, Kishan said, “With experience, I know it is not about fours and sixes (in red-ball cricket) but about getting the team in a good situation. If the ball is in my zone and the field is up then I will try. But if the bowling is good, I will look to respect it. The position where I bat – at No 6 – in the longer format is very important (for me) to read the situation. If we are not in a good situation and if I play a rash shot, it will let the team down.”
Kishan was alluding to the possible scenario of him playing Test cricket, which is still not a certainty. Only how he approaches white-ball cricket can tilt the scales in Kishan’s favour. Because even if numbers are not sacrosanct, intent is. That is where he has faltered a bit.
Like in the last T20I on a difficult Lucknow pitch where shot-making was next to impossible, he slipped into a rut after failing to rotate the strike. As an opener, the onus was on him to hit out or get out. He did neither for almost nine overs, allowing New Zealand to claw their way back. It’s not as if Kishan doesn’t know he has a problem. He admitted that during the last IPL, which he ended with a strike rate of 120.11—Kishan’s worst since 2019.
"What worked well for me was, initially when I started the tournament, I wasn't over-thinking, just going and batting like I used to do,” Kishan had said. “My focus was on giving a good start. But I think later, somewhere I was trying to finish the game and do the job for others who were supposed to do it, and maybe I lost my focus in the first six overs.”
So frequent are the reality checks at this level that a few uninspiring scores can quickly change the narrative. One month after scoring a 131-ball 210, Kishan finds himself in familiar territory where he has neither scored heavily nor changed the course of a game with a small but emphatic innings. A week to go for the Australia series, these are the things that could make or break his red-ball career.