Where does Ishan Kishan fit in to India’s ODI jigsaw if KL Rahul is not ready in time for the Asia Cup? This will be one of the big decisions the team management and the selectors face when they pick India’s Asia Cup squad later this week.
Kishan has scored 425 of his 694 ODI runs so far at the top of the order. These have come in six innings at an average in the vicinity of 80 and strike rate of 125, with a best of 210 against Bangladesh late last year.
So the numbers clearly suggest Kishan best fits in at the top, but that’s where Rohit Sharma bats alongside Shubman Gill, whose ODI numbers for 2023 are particularly compelling too: 750 runs in 12 innings, including three hundreds and two half-centuries.
Is there a workaround, then? Where does Kishan bat?
“At the top of the order, nowhere else,” former India allrounder and coach Ravi Shastri said on Star Sports’ show Selection Day. “The others have to be flexible. Between Rohit, Virat and Gill, that can be 2-3-4.”
Like Shastri, former India keeper and chairman of selectors MSK Prasad, who picked India’s 2019 World Cup squad, also felt Kishan needed to be given a run in a spot he’s most comfortable in, even if that meant Rohit dropping down the order.
“I think that’s the tough part right now,” Prasad said, on the same Star Sports show, of India’s top-order juggling. “If you’re looking at Gill to open with Rohit, then where to send Ishan Kishan is a cause for concern. If you see some of the roles he’s played at No. 4 or 5, I don’t think he has justified his place there.
“The best thing is he enjoys batting up the order. Somehow, we need to accommodate him at the top of the order. Probably that left-right combination of Rohit and Ishan Kishan might come in handy.
“Because Rohit always enjoyed the wonderful company of Shikhar Dhawan (they put on 18 century stands together). If you see, post-Dhawan, the form of Rohit has also been a cause of concern. The best place for Ishan Kishan to bat is up the order.”
Shastri, who was coach during the 2019 World Cup, said Dhawan missing the latter half of that tournament was a major miss. Dhawan fractured his finger during the course of his century against Australia and was replaced in the squad by Rishabh Pant. India opened with Rohit and KL Rahul for the remainder of that World Cup.
“People don’t give the credit that Dhawan deserves,” Shastri said. “That guy was an amazing player. You mention the World Cup, when we lost the semi-final [to New Zealand at Old Trafford] after a brilliant World Cup, he was the missing man there. That made such a big difference.
“A left-hander at the top of the order as opposed to three right-handers with the ball just swinging away, and allowing teams to get a grip on where to bowl and bowl consistently, was missing. And Rohit is a different player when he has a left-hander at the other end. He’s a totally different player altogether.
“We’ve seen the stats, stats don’t lie over a period of time, so I think a left-right batting combination at the top will help. If you tinker with his [Kishan’s] batting position, if you put him at 5-6, it’s useless. He doesn’t know how to play. The pressure is on him to bat differently. He’s got a double-hundred at the top of the order, he’s got some runs, he scores quickly. The thing with Kishan is if he’s there for 30-40 balls, he’ll go, he’ll get you off to a flier.”
Former India batter and chief selector Sandeep Patil, another Selection Day guest, differed. Patil, who chaired India’s selection panel from 2012-2016, felt making a change at this juncture, with the World Cup less than two months away, was unwarranted, especially given the kind of year Gill has had across formats.
“I’ll go with Gill [at the top],” he said. “I’m not sure if I agree with Ravi and MSK’s point where they say Rohit is comfortable if his partner is a left-hander. Like they say, [I agree] only position Ishan can bat is No. 1. So it’s a big decision to take.”
Shastri cut in here, saying Rohit would play a very important role in the whole process. “It’s a very good point… Shubman has had a fabulous 2023. This where flexibility comes in. Rohit as captain is vastly experienced. He can go at 1-3-4. This is where you have to see the frame of mind of the player.
“How will Gill feel if he’s asked to bat at 3-4 as opposed to batting at the top? If he feels he’s best at the top – and the runs he’s got of late is phenomenal – this is where flexibility comes into play and the captain will have to take a hard decision.”