Ishan Kishan
The careers of youngsters in Indian cricket should reflect a steady ascent to glory rather than a bumpy ride that Ishan Kishan is currently experiencing. File photo: BCCI

Enigma of Ishan Kishan and compelling need for clarity in Indian cricket

IPL may be a breeding ground for new talent but the handling of emerging talents like Ishan Kishan is crucial for their sustained success

Indian cricket, with its rich tapestry of talent and unpredictability, often unfolds stories of paradoxes. One such tale is that of the talented Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Ishan Kishan, who opted out of the recent Test series against South Africa citing personal reasons.

The decision sparked off a whirlwind of speculation and controversy as, despite not being part of the regular playing XI, Kishan was a member of the Indian squad in all formats for the past year. So, eyebrows went up when his name went missing from India's team for the T20I series against Afghanistan; the mystery deepened after the team was announced for the first two Test matches against England.

Domestic matches

Recent comments by Rahul Dravid emphasising that Ishan must play domestic matches for inclusion in the national squad again have intensified scrutiny on the young cricketer's journey.

Some media reports even suggested that alleged indiscipline by Kishan was perhaps the reason for his non- inclusion. But Dravid dismissed these reports and stated that Kishan was not picked simply because he had not made himself available for selection.

Ever since his remarkable double century against Bangladesh in December 2022 to being on the sidelines by December 2023, Ishan was being touted as the next big superstar. His journey through a rollercoaster of highs and lows raises questions about the dynamics of team selection and player management.

If Kishan’s absence from squads has turned the spotlight on the lack of role clarity in Indian cricket, it also raises questions about the way Kishan has been treated all through 2023.

Kishan’s Bangladesh exploits coincided with the unfortunate accident of Rishabh Pant that pushed him out of cricket and made his return uncertain. At the time, Kishan must have nurtured hopes of solidifying his position in Team India.

Not getting a consistent run

Ironically, Pant had played under Ishan’s captaincy in the Under-19 Indian team but Kishan made his international debut much later than Pant even though Kishan’s feats in IPL and domestic cricket were no less significant than Pant’s.

Though he was a part of Team India squad through most of 2023, Ishan hardly got a consistent run. After a poor T20 series against Sri Lanka following the Bangladesh tour, he was dropped from the ODIs.

When Australia came to tour before IPL 2023, he played only in one match – that too because Rohit wasn’t available. Strangely, after IPL, KS Bharat was preferred over him in the World Test Championship final though Kishan was a superior batter.

Despite these challenges, Kishan's debut in Tests against the West Indies in mid-2023 marked a turning point. His outstanding innings against Pakistan in the Asia Cup solidified his spot in the playing XI for the ODI World Cup.

Crucial knock

Kishan scored a crucial 82 off 81 balls when the team was tottering at 66 for 4 and helped India reach a respectable total. Many experts felt at the time that he had indeed made the middle order slot his own and sealed a place for the World Cup.

However, in Indian cricket, things seldom pan out the way one expects. That crucial innings against Pakistan was like a cherry on top of his amazing 2023 but, surprisingly, it set a decline from the peak thereon.

KL Rahul’s return saw Kishan losing the keeper position from the World Cup line-up and became a part of the playing XI in the first two games only because Shubman Gill came down with dengue. He was put on the bench again after Gill regained his health.

YoYo Test

After India’s loss at the ODI World Cup finals, many seniors decided to take an extended rest from the game. It presented a golden opportunity for Kishan in the T20 series against Australia, where he was reinstated in the opening position.

But in the intriguing world of Indian cricket where fitness is measured through YoYo Tests, Kishan’s career seems to be undergoing a YoYo Test of its own, marked by uncertainty over his role. From opening slots to the middle order, and being dropped mid-series, Kishan's journey raises grave questions about the lack of clarity on his role within the team structure.

The Australia T20 series serves as a prime example of how poorly Kishan has been treated by the management and selectors.

Dropped again

Kishan played the first three matches, scored two fifties but was dropped for the last two games, ostensibly to give a chance to other wicketkeeper-batsmen. Given that Kishan had hardly played any games in the World Cup, this enforced rest seemed pretty unfair.

Kishan’s poor handling by selectors and the Indian team management has been disappointing for most experts and close followers of Indian Cricket.

Nikhil Naz, one of India’s finest sports anchors and someone who keeps a close eye on Team India for over two decades, asserts that Kishan has been treated shabbily and has never got a consistent run in the national team.

Raw deal

“When he is dropped the logic given is that he is a youngster and will get more chances once the seniors move on. But surprisingly, when they select T20 teams in the absence of seniors, selectors want to try out other youngsters and Kishan is left out of the team! So, he has to wait for his opportunity when the seniors play and when new players come in, should he allow them to showcase their talent on the big stage? This has not been handled well. Kishan's been given a raw deal,” points out Naz.

Kishan’s absence from T20s in South Africa and the decision to opt out, reportedly due to mental fatigue, reflects the toll that constant uncertainty takes on a player's equanimity. Modern sports take a huge toll on the mental resilience of players and the pressure to perform, combined with uncertainty over his role may have triggered mental traumas for Kishan went unnoticed.

Tactical disadvantage

The lack of clarity of Kishan’s role has consequences beyond his personal journey.

From the larger perspective of Indian cricket, it’s a tactical disadvantage to exclude Kishan from the playing XI in Pant’s absence as apart from Yashasvi Jaiswal at the top, India doesn’t have a left hander in the test line-up until Jadeja comes in at number 7 or 8. Experience has shown it as a major disadvantage on more occasions than one. Moreover, the lack of a definite role for Kishan hinders the team's ability to strategize effectively and build a cohesive unit.

Learning from the Kishan conundrum, the Indian cricket team needs a paradigm shift to reach its full potential. Regular and transparent communication between the management, captain and players is an immediate need that must be addressed on priority. Kishan must be told clearly about his role and the expectations of the team so as to enhance his confidence and help Kishan become an impactful player in the impending T20 World Cup.

Lack of clear roles

No doubt players should adapt and contribute in alternative roles as per demands of situations, nevertheless they must know of a well-defined framework of transparency. Lack of clear roles is a reason why India has failed to win an ICC event in recent times and the delay in finalising the core line-ups before major competitions has caught India napping in case of an injury to a crucial player thus derailing the quest for glory.

Seasoned observers of Indian cricket, however, point out that Ishan should now direct his focus on getting back in the team by scoring tons of runs in domestic cricket.

Veteran journalist G Rajaraman, who has covered Indian cricket for nearly 40 years, comments: “The route for Kishan is now clear – he has to do well in domestic cricket and show that he deserves a place in the team. Importantly, he should inform the selectors that whatever personal reasons existed for his unavailability before no longer exist.”

Communicate better

Ishan Kishan's case transcends an individual's struggle. It is a microcosm of a larger issue plaguing Indian cricket – the lack of clear communication and the subsequent chaos which leads to mental traumas. The Indian Premier League (IPL) may be a breeding ground for new talent but the handling of these emerging talents, like Kishan, is crucial for their sustained success.

As Indian cricket witnesses the rise of fresh stars, it’s imperative to ensure that careers of youngsters reflect a steady ascent to glory rather than a bumpy ride that Kishan is currently experiencing.
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