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T20 World Cup 2021

Is Ishan Kishan playing himself out of India’s T20 World Cup squad?

Kishan T20 World Cup
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 3 minute read

After years of ups and downs, Ishan Kishan worked his way up the ladder to clinch a spot in the T20 World Cup for India. But after his recent struggles, he’ll need a quick course correction before the opportunity slips from his hands again, says Aadya Sharma.

At his best, Ishan Kishan is a treat to watch while batting. When he goes after the ball with conviction, his thin, compact frame generates a special oomph, almost always promising a hard, clean whack. And he does it all with the earnestness of a little kid: fidgety, eager to score, sometimes overdoing things in an attempt to stand out.

For five years, Kishan has moved in and out of the public’s minds, teasing them with the best of what he could offer, and exasperating them with the worst of what he can be as well. It started with the U19 World Cup, when Kishan, a wicketkeeper and an audacious batter, reminded many of another young Ranchi captain. When he scored runs, he was suddenly branded as Dhoni’s heir apparent, and when he didn’t, you thought he would end up being one of many what-if stories.

Kishan is still just 23, but has seen enough ups and downs for a man 10 years his senior. Sometimes, you wonder if there’s just too much weight on him to justify himself again and again, but the pressure of being a promising batsman in India is so high that if you don’t do consistently well, you will get lost in the melee of competition.

So, when the Mumbai Indians No.3 fell for nine in their loss to RCB, getting a leading edge that flew to third man, it felt like Kishan was falling back into the trap of his long-standing enemy: inconsistency. This time, though, there’s a lot more at stake. Kishan had finally progressed through the ranks and made his India debut, capping it off with a spot in the T20 World Cup squad. It had been a fine turnaround for someone who was not even an IPL regular a few seasons ago. Critics have always been wary of his tendency to slip into long, inconsistent patches. They appeared to have been silenced.

In his brand new India kit earlier this year, Kishan carried on the same form that has made him a roaring success at Mumbai Indians, using the floater’s role to score quick, impactful runs in the middle order. Against spin, he can be especially belligerent and has grown to look fairly comfortable against genuine pace too. Most importantly, he promised unabashed intent around a string of conventional run-accumulators at the top, and suggested he could be the free-flowing difference between two teams in a high-stakes tournament such as the World Cup.

However, his form of late hasn’t been encouraging at all. Since his 19-ball 33* against Delhi Capitals last November, Kishan hasn’t crossed 30 once in eight innings. Crucially, his strike-rate across those innings has crossed 110 only once. In IPL 2021, it stands at an alarming 86.99.

Kishan usually bats at the key positions of No.3 and No.4, often getting enough time to shape an innings as he wishes. However, when he isn’t doing well (such as his scratchy IPL patch of late), his struggles are directly damaging to the team’s cause, putting pressure on those to follow. At the T20 World Cup, Kishan might get to do the same role at second-drop, but his recent travails might force the management to turn their heads away, losing the confidence to gamble with such a crucial position in such an important tournament.

For, despite all the promise he has shown at domestic level, Kishan is still only three T20Is old and new to the international circuit, and the pressure of performing with freedom at a global event is unparalleled. Kishan has at least four more games to prove his mettle in this IPL, but it won’t be an easy path: his side, the defending champions, are currently struggling at No.7 on the points table, and might fall out of the playoffs race. Each Kishan failure, then, will be magnified even further.

To squeeze Kishan in, India kept out batsmen like Shikhar Dhawan, the leading run-getter in IPL 2021, Shreyas Iyer, Sanju Samson and Prithvi Shaw, among others. They have until four days before the quarantine starts to make last-minute changes, and if Kishan’s form dwindles further, there might be a temptation to make those final tweaks. For Kishan, another chance like this won’t come easy.

It won’t be easy, for Kishan bats in a specific way, and his last four dismissals were all in an attempt to press on the pedal. However, if he’s to keep competition at bay, he’ll need to mix some of that impact with more substantial scores, perhaps choose his battles better, judge the conditions more cleverly, and bat with the composure and solidity of the matchwinner he can be. He tends to overdo his role, try to play one shot too many, accelerate at the wrong times. He’s more than that, and he knows it. It’s time he showed that once again.

At the end of the game against RCB, Kishan looked distraught, before he had the arm of Virat Kohli around him and some words of wisdom to remember. It’s heartening to see the confidence the team has bestowed on him so early in his international career. It’s time Kishan repaid that, proving that he belongs to the top level, and it’s imperative he finds that touch of old soon.

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