On the eve of India’s Asia Cup opening tie against arch-rival Pakistan, captain Rohit Sharma had stated he would prefer to have a “happy headache” of selecting the best possible combination after having all his first-choice players available.
Despite the anticipated potboiler ending up as a damp squib at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Saturday night, the action that was witnessed presented the Indian men’s cricket team’s management with a new selection dilemma.
Ishan Kishan made a stunning mark in an unfamiliar position, thus staking a claim over the wicketkeeper-batter’s position in the middle order, even after K.L. Rahul joins the squad in Colombo next week.
When Kishan walked out to bat on Saturday evening, he must have faced loads of pressure. He was playing his first ODI versus Pakistan, batting at No. 5 in an ODI for the first time. And with Pakistan’s pace pack on song, India was reeling at 48 for three.
Opener Shubman Gill, Ishan’s best friend, was struggling at the other end and soon joined his seniors in the dressing room. At 66 for four, not many would have given India a chance of a batting revival.
After all, Kishan has hardly tasted success in his six innings at No .4. And the pocket dynamo is believed to have preferred the onus is on him and India’s premier all-rounder to bail India out of trouble.
With vice-captain Hardik Pandya being at his composed best at the other end, Kishan blossomed, especially against the spinners. His breezy 81-ball 82, the second-highest score by an Indian playing his first ODI against Pakistan was the highlight of his 138-run partnership with Hardik, thus giving India a fighting chance before the heavens opened up.
Had K.L. Rahul - after recovering from a quadricep surgery - not suffered a groin strain in the lead-up to the Asia Cup, Ishan would have been warming the bench as the backup opener-cum-middle order bat-cum wicketkeeper.
But with Ishan having grabbed his opportunity with both hands, he has made a case for being used in the middle order at least until the end of the World Cup. After all, he offers a left-handed option, a rarity in India’s top six batting positions.
No wonder then that Kishan will be desperate to carry on in the same vein against Asia Cup debutant Nepal on Monday. Nepal had a taste of the big league when it was annihilated by Pakistan in Multan in the tournament opener.
While Nepal will be hoping to be competitive, a full game on Monday looks unlikely. The weather forecast is iffy and in case of another abandonment, India will join Pakistan in Super Four from Group A.
The teams (from): India: Rohit Sharma (Capt.), Hardik Pandya (Vice-capt.), Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, K.L. Rahul, Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna.
Nepal: Rohit Paudel (Capt.), Kushal Bhurtel, Aasif Sheikh, Bhim Sharki, Kushal Malla, Aarif Sheikh, Dipendra Singh Airee, Gulshan Jha, Sompal Kami, Karan K.C., Sandeep Lamichhane, Lalit Rajbanshi, Pratish G.C., Mousom Dhakal, Sundeep Jora, Kishore Mahato, Arjun Saud.
Match starts 3 p.m.
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