Rain might have dampened the mood of thousands who waited through the frustrating weather in Pallekele as the thrilling contest between India and Pakistan in 2023 Asia Cup was washed out, but the 48.5 overs of action has sparked a massive debate in Indian cricket fraternity with the ICC ODI World Cup just a month away. Ishan Kishan, who walked into the playing XI after KL Rahul was ruled out of the group stages owing to an injury concern, emerged as the best batter for India with his knock of 82 off 81 against Pakistan. While the knock, along with Hardik Pandya’s 87, gave India some hope against their arch-rivals before rain had the final say in the contest, it sparked of a debate on whom should the team management now pick as the frontline wicketkeeper-batter for the World Cup squad. In fact, it turned so intense that former India cricketers Gautam Gambhir and Mohammad Kaif got involved in a heated exchange on live TV.
Ishan was always India’s back-up wicketkeeping option despite having a double century to his name and proven his worth at every position as a top-order batter. Rahul, who raced against time to prove his fitness for the Asia Cup selection, was named as the primary choice option. However, the latter stayed back at the NCA in Bengaluru to work on his fresh injury concern, which occurred just days before the selection, as a “precautionary measure”, and is slated to appear in a fitness test on September 5 before leaving for Sri Lanka.
In his place on Saturday, Ishan negated the fierce Pakistan pace attack in Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah despite the trio wreaking havoc amid the rain delays to send India 66 for four. Combining with Hardik, the two stitched a record 138-run stand, the highest fifth-wicket stand for India against Pakistan in an ODI game, as the team eventually ended with 266 runs in 48.5 overs.
Following the knock, in a discussion with Star Sports, Kaif was asked what should India now do when Rahul becomes fit. The veteran India batter said that irrespective of Ishan scoring that knock of 82, his four consecutive fifty and seventh overall, Rahul will walk into the XI when he is fit by the logic that he was only out of the team due to injury and not bad form.
“Kl Rahul is a proven match-winner. At No. 5, his numbers are fabulous. So Rahul Dravid knows, there is that clarity in his mind that…remember, Mohammed Shami was dropped today. So, when KL Rahul is fit again, he will be playing in the XI and Ishan Kishan will have to wait for his next opportunity. Ishan is doing all that he needs. He scored in that series against West Indies…his graph is only going up and is getting better by the day. He has a double century to his name as well. He has class and talent but he cannot replace Rahul yet because the latter is nit playing because of bad form, but due to an injury,” he said.
Gambhir taken aback by Kaif’s response
But when Gambhir, seated right next to him, was asked the same question, turned towards Kaif and posed just one question: “To win the World Cup, name is more important or form?” Kaif was at complete loss for words. The former India opener then explained his question saying that had one between Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma been in place of Ishan now, would he have made that same remark about Rahul.
“Had Kohli or Rohit made those four consecutive fifties, would you have said the same thing about KL Rahul? When you are preparing to win a World Cup, you don’t look at a name, you look at the form of a player that could win you the trophy,” Gambhir said.
Kaif looked to interrupt saying: “India will then have to wait”, but Gambhir continued making his point, justifying why Ishan has every right to make the World Cup squad as a frontline wicketkeeper-batter ahead of Rahul.
“Ishan has done everything possible to become the frontrunner. We are only making this argument because he hasn’t played as many international matches as Rahul. There have been many players who have lost their spot in the team due to injuries because their replacement player performed impressively. Few had to wait for their chances while other did not even get another chance. This is the reality. Yes Rahul is a proven player at No. 5 but for Ishan, who has never batted at that position comes in and score 82 against a bowling attack like Pakistan under that pressure, then you cannot compare the two at all,” he said.
Ishan has one more game to prove his worth, in the match against Nepal, which will be played on Monday at the same venue before Rahul makes it back into the squad.