Two T20Is and two similar scripts – batting first has been tougher, batting under the lights much easier. Ball stopping naturally in the first innings, then coming better onto the bat under lights. One team’s plans going haywire and the other looking professional, even flawless on the day. One win each to England and India, and the story is one-all in this five-match series.
There is a theory that toss might become all important in the remaining three games, all to be played at the same venue. Irrespective of the format, whenever toss becomes important, it takes away from the spectacle. If India were grossly short in the first T20I, England looked the same in the second match. In both cases, toss was the common denominator.
Only difference was the pace at which side batting first was undone. If Indian batting came up short against quality fast bowling on Friday, then England were found lacking against slower deliveries and clever variations in pace on Sunday. For once, Shardul Thakur proved why he is still in contention in the shortest format. Five out of six deliveries he bowled at the death were off-cutters – almost to an extent of predictability.
That the English batsmen simply couldn’t pick him – or other Indian bowlers for the matter – showed how two-paced the Motera pitch is in natural light. India’s slower pace ploy worked exactly like they wanted – three spinners using variation in pace, with three medium pacers bowling cutters at will. How many English bowlers can do that? Not many. On the day, as far as this particular game was concerned, and perhaps in the scheme of this entire series being played on the same ground as well, this slower-ball tactic will be one to watch out for in the remaining games.
However, this series isn’t just about winning for bragging rights, for both sides are also looking at the bigger picture. There is a T20 World Cup on the horizon, and anything or everything either team does, must be seen from the lens as well. It is why Ishan Kishan’s debut and sudden elevation to the opening slot, ahead of Shikhar Dhawan while Rohit Sharma was still resting, didn’t raise many eyebrows.
Let us talk about the debut first. It wasn’t surprising. Anybody who had seen him bat for Mumbai Indians in the 2020 IPL season knew Kishan was ready for the big league. It wasn’t just about the 516 runs in 15 matches he scored as Mumbai Indians won their fifth title, or that he finished the highest run-getter for his team and fifth-highest overall.
It was the manner in which he scored them. Taking the lead away from Rohit and Quinton de Kock, he became a pivot in that Mumbai middle-order. They weren’t dependent on him, per se, but there was an inherent leadership about his runs. Kishan repeatedly handed them the initiative, and when you do that in a team replete with superstars, it gets you noticed. Standing out in a Mumbai Indians’ line-up is like standing out in the Galacticos’ line-up at Real Madrid.
Anybody who saw him play was undoubtedly sure about his rise to the Indian team, just the question of “when” lingered. For the loss of Ranji Trophy cricket was a big miss. Imagine, taking that form and leadership into domestic red-ball cricket and tearing it up? It took one innings in white-ball domestic cricket to bring him roaring into reckoning.
Around 9 PM on 20 February, the Indian team for this T20I series against England was announced. Earlier that day, Kishan smacked 173 against Madhya Pradesh, off 94 balls, including 11 sixes and 19 fours. It was enough for that all-elusive call-up, due in his case. Even so, nobody saw him getting a game, atleast not within the first two matches. Until, Rohit was rested.
It is not longer about the causality of that move, rather the after-effects. Dhawan laboured in the first T20 (4 off 12 balls) and was dropped from the second even as his former opening partner continued resting on Sunday. That Kishan came into the opening picture three weeks after his blistering knock against MP indicated what the team management is thinking.
They want an aggressive left-handed opening option for the 2021 T20 World Cup. Dhawan is simply not cutting it anymore. Enter Ishan Kishan.
Opening on international debut, whilst chasing 165, you didn’t expect any nerves from him. Not after witnessing what he has achieved on a similar big stage that is the IPL. Instead, you wanted to see that desire to grab the opportunity with both hands and that hunger to make an impact, which gifted Indian youngsters have made a habit of doing in 2021. Like Shubman Gill, Mohammed Siraj and Washington Sundar, Kishan too put up a display to remember.
It would have been easy to let nerves get the better off him, even as KL Rahul fell at the other end. It would have been easier to get over-awed as Virat Kohli regained his majestic touch. Kishan, though, belongs from the Jharkhand school of cricket and is walking in the footsteps of MS Dhoni. Nerves, raw or otherwise, just don’t come into the picture.
Kishan was assured in his stroke play and his ability to pick the right moment to attack. His swivelling sixes targeting the rope from long-on to square were a highlight, as India sped off easily to their chase. That muscled hit off Ben Stokes over square leg was barbaric, and riled the all-rounder so much he spilled a dolly catch soon after.
On a night India achieved a flawless win, Kishan made an opening remark with a maiden half-century. It will probably just end up being a bookend to what promises to be a rich international journey.
In the meantime, Kishan has already done enough to further confuse the Indian team management about their opening options. Bring back Rohit or rest Rahul for the third? What about the T20 World Cup? Can Kishan be the third-choice opening option for that tournament, if he continues to replicate such form through the next 4-5 months including the 2021 IPL?
Dhawan should be very worried about his international T20 future.
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