World Cup clock ticking for Ishan, Shreyas, and Rishabh as India play South Africa

Not long ago, Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant, and Shreyas Iyer were the names on everyone’s lips for India’s T20 squad heading to the World Cup. Going into the five-match T20I series against South Africa, things aren’t that obvious for the troika as they may end up losing a ticket to the big competition later this year.

Ishan Kishan having made a scintillating international debut following a brilliant IPL winning season with Mumbai, was seen as someone who’d change the way T20 opening is perceived in Indian cricket. Taking the attack to the bowlers from the word, ‘go’.

Rishabh Pant, the darling of Indian cricket for the past year, courtesy his red ball performances, brought T20 to the Test realm. With his reverse scoops and dancing down the track sixes, the 24-year-old was seen as an obvious choice in the shorter format of the game.

Shreyas Iyer was once seen as an ideal candidate for India’s white ball captaincy. In this IPL, questions have popped up about his game against fast bowling, bouncers – the oppositions have begun to target him accordingly.

A big 10-team IPL season later, the general and majority consensus around the trio’s inclusion in the T20 squad has changed. One can look at this from different perspectives.

Dismal IPL campaign

Safe to say, Kishan, Pant and Iyer didn’t have an IPL 2022 worth remembering. All three of them couldn’t make a mark in the league stage, and their teams didn’t feature in the knockouts. Kishan scored the most runs of the three (418 in 14 innings), but he did so at a strike rate of just above 120. Iyer scored 401 runs at 134.56 and lacked consistency as KKR’s season derailed midway. Pant managed to score 340 at a strike rate above 150 but looked far from the free flowing best that he has been in the league.

The similar approach

Even though the three may bat at different positions, they have a similar way of approaching the format. Go big with their shots from the very beginning. They may not be able to execute it every time but that is the way they’ve looked to assert themselves, losing out on runs in the effort to do so.

But even with the narrative around T20 being the ‘go big or go home’ format, there’s a method to the madness that the very best devise and follow.

Dinesh Karthik this IPL season targeted his bowlers, and his regions to get his 330 runs at a scintillating strike rate of 183.33. Majority of the 37-year-old’s runs came in the square leg, mid-wicket region with those pulls, flicks, and sweeps. As the bowlers targeted the stumps in the final overs, the RCB keeper-batter adjusted himself well around or outside the off-stump to manoeuvre and execute his onslaught.

There were times when Karthik found himself tied up against a certain bowler. Like against Mahesh Theekshana in the second RCB-CSK game of the season. The Sri Lankan spinner offered very little to the India international in the death overs. Which is when Karthik decided to go after Dwaine Pretorius at the other end and ended up scoring 16 off his last over in a game RCB won by 13 runs.

Kishan and Iyer have been seen struggling recently when the bowlers have nullified their options to play big shots early in their innings. In recent times, so has Pant, but the 24-year old has also proven on the big stage that his personal jung-ho attack against the bowlers is effective when the team is in pressure. Like he did against Pakistan in India’s T20 World Cup opener last year, manufacturing one handed sixes after India had lost three early wickets. Had it not been for Pant (and Kohli), India’s innings could’ve gone off the track the way it did against New Zealand in the next game.

For the T20 World Cup, in Australian conditions where pacers will have loads of questions to ask, with big boundaries to be breached, a page out of the Dinesh Karthik book of T20 batting can be helpful for the three Indian batters.

Shadows chasing

The IPL has put more options on the table for the Indian team. Each player in the current lineup can be replaced by at least one more. Ishan Kishan opened the home international season pre-IPL alongside Rohit Sharma. With KL Rahul back in the squad as captain for the South Africa series and Rohit still the captain for India across formats, Kishan’s place in the starting XI as an opener looks dicey.

Shreyas Iyer looked sensational as a number three batter in the series against Sri Lanka, scoring 204 runs in three innings at the strike rate of 174.36. But he wasn’t able to feed off that form more recently. With Suryakumar Yadav and Virat Kohli still favorites to compose that middle order for the World Cup, Iyer may have to do more than just be a number three batter to get into the squad. The KKR captain was spotted bowling leg-spin ahead of the first T20I and was in constant communication with India’s bowling coach, Paras Mhambrey.

Former India international Suresh Raina had said at the Indian Express Idea Exchange earlier this year that top order batters who could also bowl were the reason behind India winning the 2007 T20 World Cup, the 2011 World Cup, and the 2013 Champions Trophy. “Now Shreyas Iyer is working on his bowling, I think he should keep working hard,” Raina said.

A valid argument can be made on Rishabh Pant not being under the same pressure as his two colleagues. He has, after all, proven his worth in India colors across formats over the last couple of years. But with Dinesh Karthik back in the mix, India have the luxury of another wicketkeeper-batter in inspiring form as a finisher. A role that was associated with Pant at the very beginning of his international cricket journey.

Former India head coach Ravi Shastri has also spoken on how DK the wicketkeeper batter might be an asset worth exploring for the Indian team.

“India need a wicketkeeper-batter who can play the finishing role,” Shastri had pointed out, referring to Karthik during the recently concluded IPL season.

Hardik Pandya’s arrival has also bombarded India’s middle and lower middle order with choices. For things to not turn real fast, Pant will be looking to make sure he has a good outing or two in the upcoming five T20I series. A case Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer would also look to make as India head towards the T20 World Cup.


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