Where is Ishan Kishan? If Indian cricket fans aren’t seized with this question, well, they should be.
In his last Test in July, the left-handed wicketkeeper-batter made an undefeated 52 against West Indies in Port of Spain. In his last One-Day International, at the World Cup, he slammed a run-a-ball 47 against Afghanistan in October in the dengue-struck Shubman Gill’s absence. And in two of his last three Twenty20 Internationals at home against Australia in late November, he hammered a 39-ball 58 and a 32-ball 52. So really, where is Ishan Kishan?
The literal answer is Vadodara, where he has been training at the Kiran More Academy for a couple of weeks.
But why isn’t the 25-year-old in the Test scheme of things? Why, when India are desperately and unsuccessfully seeking to eke out meaningful runs from KS Bharat, is Kishan looking on from the sidelines? Why is there a giant-sized hole in the Test set-up when his attacking batsmanship in the middle order could have unsettled England’s rookie spinners?
This is why. In December, midway through the all-format tour of South Africa, Kishan requested the Board of Control for Cricket in India to be released from the team for personal reasons. By then, he had lost his T20I spot to Jitesh Sharma, who the think-tank was keen on as an end-overs finisher ahead of the T20 World Cup. KL Rahul, the designated captain, was certain to don the big gloves in the three 50-over matches. And, with inexperience aplenty in the batting group – Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer were on their first tours of South Africa – Rahul was being touted as the Test wicketkeeper too, if only on a temporary basis.
Perhaps in pique, perhaps because he felt pushed to a corner or perhaps because he needed a break – idle speculation, agreed – Kishan sought a leave of absence. Ahead of the series opener against England in Hyderabad, head coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma confirmed that Rahul would not keep wickets in India, that his role in the capacity was always going to be temporary. Given that they pride themselves on keeping channels of communication open and buzzing, one must assume that’s something they had earlier spoken to Kishan about. Or did they?
Kishan will play no part in the three remaining Tests against England too, the national selectors keeping faith in Bharat and the uncapped Dhruv Jurel while announcing a 17-man squad for the rest of the series. Having first declared that Kishan must play domestic cricket before insisting that he should play ‘some cricket’ to be considered for selection, Dravid had obliquely made it clear nearly a week back that Kishan’s chances of an immediate Test comeback are nil to non-existent. Where does that leave the team?
Bharat’s Test career had hit a roadblock until Kishan’s pullout from South Africa eight weeks back. In his five matches till then, the Andhra stumper had impressed behind the stumps, but done little of note in front of it, which is why Kishan first broke through into the five-day set-up. Since his return, Bharat has again been competent behind the sticks – not outstanding like his opposite number Ben Foakes, who has limited experience of keeping in these conditions – but hasn’t quite looked the part as a batter. Considering India play only five specialist batters, and one of them is not the absent Virat Kohli, they can ill afford for their wicketkeeper not to pull his weight with the bat.
Bharat, 30, is a more than capable willow-wielder; he averages 36.69 in 96 first-class outings, the highest of his ten centuries is a monumental 308. For India, his highest is 44, his average 20.09 in seven Tests. Against England, his scores are 41, 28, 17 and 6, though it mustn’t be forgotten that in the second innings in Hyderabad with India on 119 for seven chasing 231, he orchestrated a fightback in R Ashwin’s company that eventually ended only 28 short.
Will India persist with Bharat in Rajkot (the third Test starts on Thursday) or blood Jurel, especially if Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja, who both missed the Visakhapatnam win through injuries, return to the fray? Do they trust Jurel enough to stand up to Ashwin and Jadeja and Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav for 90 overs in a day if the ball misbehaves? Or will his batting average of 46.47 and a highest of 249 tilt the scales in his favour? One suspects the pitch in Rajkot will have some bearing on who of Bharat or Jurel gets the nod, but you still can’t help but wonder: Where is Ishan Kishan?