Who would have thought that with a month close to the ICC ODI World Cup at home and on the eve of the preliminary squad announcement for India, the selectors and the team management will be rattled with a fresh debate on the primary wicketkeeper’s spot. India had their equation simple leading up to the Asia Cup after the inclusion of Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul, who returned from a long injury layoff to make the squad. Head coach Rahul Dravid, who admitted that India were struck by sheer misfortune with an array of injuries which troubled their set middle-order combination for the World Cup, looked content over their return implying that Iyer would resume with his No. 4 role while Rahul will take the spot below in the batting order as usual. But one valiant knock, on Saturday night, in that frustrating washed out game in Pallekele changed the course of thought, discussion and debate over the Indian squad. (India vs Nepal Live Score Asia Cup 2023)
In the blockbuster match against Pakistan, Ishan Kishan, who bagged a spot in the XI after Rahul was ruled out with a fresh injury concern for the group-stage matches, walked in at No. 5, where he has never batted before in his short ODI career, and smashed an authoritative 82 off 81. It was his maiden fifty in his very first international appearance against Pakistan, his fourth in a row in the format and seventh overall. But what left veterans and experts at the Pallekele and those on social media go ga-ga was the maturity that Ishan showed through his knock. Having walked in when the top order was left in tatters by Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf, with India four down for 66 runs, Ishan, instead of looking to negate the pacers early on in his knock, he eased off the pressure through his natural aggressive strokeplay which rubbed off on Hardik as well. The two scored their respective fifties and stitched a record 138-run to revive India before rain had the final say on the match result.
The knock thus sparked a debate on whether India should pick Rahul when he returns to the Asia Cup squad fit for the Super Fours stage, before it went a notch up with the Likes of Gautam Gambhir and Mohammad Kaif engaging in a heated discussion over Ishan and Rahul as the first choice wicketkeeper-batter for the playing XI in the ODI World Cup.
‘It’s a long tournament…split them up’
The debate later took a fresh turn on Monday when Star Sports assembled the likes of Ravi Shastri, Dominic Cork and Matthew Hayden to give their verdict for the World Cup team and trio came up with two different solutions which could eventually lessen the headache for the selectors.
The former England cricketer admitted that it was a “good headache” to have for the selectors before he revealed Ishan as his pick based on form. Cork, however, added that selectors also have the luxury of two star batters in the squad and with the long tournament ahead, amid Rahul’s vulnerability to injuries, both could find a chance in the XI through the tournament.
“As a coach you want players when the pressure is high and they take their opportunities. What I saw on the last day, with the side under presser at 66 for four and with two new players in Ishan and Hardik, there were able to manipulate the a quality bowling attack and go all the way through. But it also adds just that left-hand option as well. So it is a big call to say whether Ishan walks in straight into the XI ahead of Rahul. Yes they are in the squad and you never know…Rahul had pulled up a hamstring as well little bit…it’s a long tournament. It’s a great problem to have overall. But if I have to pick form wise, I will go with Ishan in the first game,” he said.
Shastri too was thoroughly impressed with Ishan, pointing out that he erased the general concept that he can only open in a batting order, having scored 82 in his first appearance as a No. 5 batter.
“There was one question to be answered, we have seen him open the batting so we came to believe that if he plays he has to open because he has never batted in the middle order. What he showed the last day was his ability to adapt. If he has that kind of ability to adapt in a pressure cooker situation against a team like Pakistan when you top order has been blown away, and the to show that kind of composure in his 82-run knock. He is young, there was pressure on him in whether he should play or not and then after doing that it is a good problem to have if you are an Indian selector because he is going to push you right till in the end for a spot in the XI and certainly against some opponents. You got to be flexible,” he said.
The legendary all-rounder then took a leaf out of Cork’s notion saying that amid Rahul’s return from back-to-back injuries, the management can split them up for matches in a bid to reduce stress on the batter.
“An important point made by Dominic about that hamstring injury is that you can rather split it a bit with World Cup being a long tournament, instead of playing one guy throughout,” he said.
‘Horses for courses’
Adding to his concept of dividing the matches between the two wicketkeeping options, Shastri further teased the idea of “horses for courses” based on the combination of the opposition.
“For 1-2 positions, you can be flexible just like you pick horses for courses in the bowling department. Why can’t it be applied for batters?” he stated.
Aussie great Hayden, who stood quite listening to Shastri, interrupted saying that the idea could then mean that batters can change their positions as well like a Virat Kohli could come down to No. 4 with Ishan at No. 3. This could mean that both Ishan and Rahul could be part of the same XI.
“Why shouldn’t it apply to Kohli at No. 3? Because there is also an opportunity for Ishan to bat at No. 3,” he said.