When Ishan Kishan walked out onto the field following the second rain delay, the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium was finally bathed in bright sunlight on that Saturday. As he assumed his position at the non-striker’s end, the elongated shadows stretching across the pitch served as an apt metaphor for his cricketing journey.
The lingering question that has followed Kishan, despite his double century and recent string of fifties, revolves around whether he possesses the mental fortitude and skills to excel under pressure against a top-notch bowling attack. It’s an unjust inquiry in many respects, but it’s a common query that often arises at the onset of flamboyant batsmen’s careers, particularly those who consistently flirt with risk. Doubts inevitably linger: do they have the substance, or is it all style with no substance?
In what can arguably be termed his most mature innings for India, Ishan Kishan provided a resounding answer to that question. His shot selection exuded confidence against a high-quality bowling attack, his approach to constructing an innings was rational, and his ability to manage the tempo of the innings was clear, until he was hindered by what seemed like cramps and got dismissed while chasing quick runs. One inning alone won’t silence his critics, but it’s certainly a promising start.
Seizing his opportunity, he compiled 82 runs off 81 deliveries, a composed performance when the team was under significant pressure. Hardik Pandya was a dependable partner in this endeavor. Kishan was batting at an unfamiliar No. 5 position, but he adapted effectively to make the most of the situation. Together, Hardik and Ishan forged a remarkable 138-run partnership for the fifth wicket out of a total of 266. The struggles of the rest of the Indian batsmen before and after their partnership underscored how crucial their contribution was in a high-pressure match.
Less than a year ago, Kishan was regarded as India’s primary opener. His explosive 210 off just 131 balls in Chattogram last December was seen as a blueprint for India’s approach in One-Day Internationals. As a left-handed opener and a wicket-keeper with a fearless attitude, Kishan ticked all the boxes and outshone the opening duo of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma.
However, by January, immediately after his double century, Ishan found himself relegated to the middle order as India focused on the Rohit-Shubman Gill partnership at the top.
There was a reason behind his short-lived stint at the top of the order. In his brief career, when the white ball swung, Kishan had shown a tendency to struggle, lacking confidence in his defensive skills and preferring to attack his way out of trouble.
On the day in question, he faced a period when Pakistan’s fast bowlers were displaying impeccable seam bowling skills. It was a significant test for Kishan.
At the other end, Gill, who had taken his spot at the top, was grappling with a challenging phase in the middle against the fiery duo of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah. Prior to Gill, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli had already succumbed to Afridi. The returning Shreyas Iyer had fallen victim to an ill-timed pull shot, caught by Fakhar Zaman stationed inside the circle. In the six balls that Kishan faced before the second rain break, he didn’t inspire much confidence either.
However, with the first delivery he faced after the rain delay, he opted for an aggressive approach, smashing fast bowler Haris Rauf for a six over the cover region. In the following over against Naseem, Kishan encountered some difficulties, but he displayed patience and avoided making rash decisions. If KL Rahul had been fit, he might not have played this match. Batting at No. 5 for the first time, he demonstrated his maturity. This was not an innings where he simply swung his bat in desperation; instead, he batted with versatility in a format that hadn’t been his forte.
With Hardik Pandya as his partner, Ishan pulled India out of a precarious situation. When they began their partnership in the 14th over, India was struggling at 66/4. In the overcast conditions, Rohit’s decision to bat first seemed questionable each time Pakistan took a wicket. Hardik and Ishan took calculated risks, confronting spinners Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz with confidence whenever an opportunity arose, all while maintaining good rotation of strike. Their left-right combination posed challenges for the Pakistani spinners.
As Pakistan continued to attack in search of wickets, with only four fielders patrolling the boundary during the second powerplay, Kishan and Pandya remained composed even during periods of dot balls. In fact, their partnership of 138 runs was built on 56 dot balls out of 141 deliveries, but what stood out was their adaptability to the situation.
Known for his big-hitting against spinners, Pandya was willing to defend against Nawaz when the left-arm spinner tempted him with flighted deliveries. The Pakistani team’s lapses in the field also contributed to the release of pressure.
The only critique would be that they lost their wickets when close to their respective centuries with plenty of overs remaining. Kishan, who struggled to run between the wickets, perished in pursuit of a boundary.