Yes, it was a ‘no result’ game against Pakistan in the Asia Cup on Saturday but it was still a great game for India from the World Cup standpoint.
I was a little surprised that Rohit Sharma chose to bat first in those conditions with the weather around, but it turned out to be a real blessing in the end.
Two massive boxes got ticked, namely Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya. With KL Rahul a doubtful starter, his replacement had to be a really good one. Well, as it turned out Ishan played so well that he now has relegated Rahul to second choice keeper-batter. No way can the team management leave him out of the playing XI now, such was the quality of his innings.
He came into bat when the ball was new and Pakistani fast bowlers had their tails up. The pitch in Pallekele wasn’t the typical subcontinental flat surface, it had some encouragement for the seamers. There was pace and bounce plus movement off the pitch, something rarely seen on Asian pitches.
So, the first 10 overs he faced was all about defence against the likes of Afridi, Naseem and Rauf and he did that superbly! That front foot was coming down the pitch a long way when the ball was full, and he got into good positions against the short ball too.
The next hour of batting for Ishan was only about picking ones and twos. Now, this is easy for somebody whose natural game is building an innings with ones and twos, but Ishan and Hardik are big hitters too, used to playing in top gear and scoring runs through fours and sixes.
And that was the admirable part of Ishan and Hardik’s performance. They played an unnatural game for the sake of the team, playing outside your comfort zone to suit the needs of your team makes you a great value add to the team.
That was the huge positive for India, two batters batting in the middle order willing to do the boring thing of taking singles and twos, keeping wickets in hand when a few were lost early. That’s a kind of situation middle-order batters will face quite often in 50-overs cricket.
It was right towards the end that Ishan and Hardik were able to play freely and go back into their comfort zone. And when both batters got out, they looked terribly disappointed, suggesting that they were keen to carry on and stay there till the end. Another great sign from a No.5 and 6.
As I said, despite the match getting washed out, India took a lot out of the game.
Hardik is a key player in this team. Mind you, he’s expected to be a batting all-rounder for India in the World Cup, but of late his batting has been a little inconsistent, both in IPL and international cricket. So, this was a very convincing batting performance where he showed his full range as a batter, just like Ishan; basically, he batted like a pure batter, like a No.6 should be.
Rohit’s unexpected decisions
A couple of decisions from Rohit Sharma were unexpected, the choice to bat first after winning the toss and when Ishan was in the team, batting him after Virat Kohli. We saw in that game only what happens when you have three right-handers all batting with the same approach. It just makes the job of the bowler far simpler.
Imagine an Ishan, a left-handed batter, at No.3 without the burden of wickets lost and just two fielders outside the circle. He is one to take the odd risk and put the bowlers off, and maybe India would not have been 4 down for 66 if a left-hand batter with a slightly unorthodox approach was in the top 3.
At this stage of his career, I think No.4 for Virat is not a bad position at all. He would not have to come in too early against the new ball against quality fast bowlers. He would come at a time when the field is spread out and that is when you need a fit batter who loves running hard between the wickets picking up those extra runs on the boundary.
Because Ishan has done so well at No.5, maybe India will go with the same batting order next game. But at some stage they must explore the advantages that will come with Virat at No.4.
Another nugget of good news for India was Shreyas Iyer’s cameo. He looked quite good out there against a quality attack; must confess that it was one of the best shots that I’ve seen played by a batter to get out.
As I said, a really good game for India. Now they could bowl first next game and check their bowling out, namely Jasprit Bumrah.