The debate hovers around whether India should hand a Test debut to Ishan Kishan in the World Test Championship final or persist with K.S. Bharat.
The cricketing fraternity seems divided, with many backing Kishan for his better batting abilities. However, there’s also another school of thought which believes that in England, where the Dukes ball bears pronounced movement, Bharat’s experience of featuring in four Tests against Australia earlier this year, makes him a reasonably better candidate for the role at The Oval.
Though Farokh Engineer does not want to draw a comparison between Bharat and Kishan, the former India wicketkeeper-batter believes that the latter’s batting prowess gives him the slight edge.
In the four Test outings so far, Bharat has scored 110 runs in six innings, including a half-century against Australia in Ahmedabad in March. Filling in for Rishabh Pant, Bharat is yet to settle in and in the home series, he struggled on quite a few occasions.
Though Kishan walks into an unknown territory of Tests after the injury of K.L. Rahul, the youngster has proven his class in white-ball cricket and also in the Indian Premier League recently.
“I have not seen Bharat much, but having seen Kishan, I can say that he is not a bad wicketkeeper at all. He did well for Mumbai Indians as well in the IPL. His batting is outstanding, so Kishan should perhaps get the nod,” Engineer told Sportstar.
When India hits the ground, hoping to break its decade-long title jinx in an ICC event, Engineer will be present at The Oval to watch the game. And, knowing the Oval surface like the back of his hand, Engineer believes that the Indian team management needs to decide whether it wants a specialist batter-wicketkeeper or a wicketkeeper, who can bat.
“You need to know what you want - a batter-wicketkeeper or a wicketkeeper-batter? They have to weigh in the factor that if the top five or six don’t get runs, what happens then. We have pretty much depth with Ashwin and Jadeja around, who can bat lower down the order. But in a five-day match, Kishan should play in my opinion,” Engineer said. “But then, not having seen too much of Bharat, I wouldn’t draw a comparison. May the best candidate get the nod…”
Over the last couple of years, Kishan has featured in only four first-class matches - against South Africa in 2021 and a couple of Ranji Trophy fixtures for Jharkhand last year. However, there’s a belief that his ‘X-factor’ could come in handy against a star-studded Australia.
The 85-year-old Engineer, who was considered one of the best of his trade in his time, also has a piece of advice for India’s stumpers ahead of a big final. “Keep your eye on the ball. That’s the most important thing. You cannot afford to relax for a second really because the moment you tend to relax, you would mess things up. Concentration is the key…”
“Wicketkeeping is wicketkeeping, wherever it is in the world. The pitches are different, the bounce is different in different places, but a good wicketkeeper will always have a look at the bounce, adjust his placement exactly. And, following him, the slip fielders will stand. You don’t want to be too back or too forward, so concentration is the key, no matter who plays - be it Bharat or Ishan,” Engineer explains.
Engineer, who now lives in Manchester, has fond memories of The Oval as he was one of the architects of India’s first Test win in England in 1971, which was also the side’s first series win in England. Engineer scored 59 in the first innings of that historic fixture, before chipping in with an unbeaten 28 as India earned a four-wicket victory.
Of course, the nature of English wickets have changed over the years, but Engineer is optimistic about India’s chances at the ‘lucky’ Oval. “Nowadays, a lot of Indian and Australian players are very familiar with English pitches. This is not as alien to them as it was a few years ago. Now, they are all used to these conditions. It’s a neutral venue and I don’t think it will make much difference really,” Engineer said, adding: “The Oval has been a lucky place for India because we won our first Test here in 1971 and I was privileged to play a role…”
So far, India has played 14 Test matches at The Oval, winning two, losing three and drawing seven of them. The last time India played at this iconic venue in 2021, it won by 157 runs against England.
And as Rohit Sharma’s men gear up for an Aussie challenge, it hopes to make the right call between the two wicketkeepers, who virtually have no international experience of playing in England.
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