Kishan's unfettered attack nearly trips up Saurashtra
The Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground in Rajkot is now a relic, hosting Ranji Trophy matches only because there is an ODI to be played in Rajkot in 10 days time. This stadium has witnessed some exciting batting, though. Viv Richards had scored 100 off 77 balls with seven sixes and seven fours here. Virender Sehwag looted 114 off 82 in a chase of 300 against West Indies in 2002 before he, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara scored hundreds in a 400-meets-400 ODI. Sourav Ganguly, during the fractious days of Indian cricket, began his comeback with a Duleep Trophy hundred here. Not to mention the thousands of runs Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja have scored here to press cases for their national selection.
Not many will not laugh at the suggestion that Ishan Kishan's 87 on day one of a Group C Ranji Trophy match is being spoken of in the same breath. "Ishan Kishan, who?" will be the first question. Kishan is Jharkhand's 5'6" 17-year-old left-hand opening batsman and wicketkeeper. He was recently in Bangalore for India's Under-19 camp. He is yet to score a first-class, List A or Twenty20 hundred. In fact, his strike rate in T20 is under 100.
Now why is an 87 important? Saurashtra has two ways of playing cricket. Prepare a flat pitch and score a lot of runs through Pujara and Jadeja, and then unleash the master of metronome on the opposition. If they lose the toss on these pitches they still find ways of scoring runs batting second. The other way is to not water the pitch, prepare a Bunsen and unleash the king of quick turn, Jadeja, again. There is no breathing space for opposition batsmen, especially those in Group C. Tripura experienced it last week, losing in two days and a session. They are very few who can trip Saurashtra into the ditch they dig.
For this match Saurashtra opted for the second method. The Bunsen. Underprepared. Powdery. Throwing up puffs of dust from ball one. "A khet", a Jharkhand official remarked. A farm. Ploughed farm. "Akhada", wrestling ground, it is generally called. The ball is "turning like a power steering", it was observed. When Kishan - facing first ball of the match - scratched his guard, dust flew, and he saw Saurashtra fielders laugh at him. It will be interesting to see how the BCCI match referee sees this pitch: substandard, because it was turning from day one, or just a result-oriented okay pitch because it wasn't really "dangerous". It was also going to be interesting to see how Jharkhand deal with it and escape the Tripura-like fate?
The first step towards doing so is to win the toss, but still you have to score runs first up. If you don't, Jadeja can bowl all day long and still get you. When Jharkhand checked in into their hotel in Rajkot, Tripura players were yet to leave and told the Jharkhand side not to let the spinners settle, a mistake they made. On such pitches you have to do unto others before they do unto you, as wrestler Steve Austin used to profess. The ball rears up on such pitches, well, like a rattlesnake. Saurashtra went in for doing unto Jharkhand as early as the fifth over. They began with the other Jadeja, Dharmendrasinh. He, too, bowls left-arm spin. He took the four wickets that Ravindra didn't take in the second innings of the last match.
Kishan was not going to roll over like Tripura did. He jumped out of the crease first ball, reached the pitch of the ball and went over mid-on. Saurashtra were a little stunned. Next ball he did it again. A wide long-on went back, and he went over that man for six. The Jharkhand players sitting on the sidelines were abuzz. "Shabash chhotey", "bhid ke khelo chhotey". Chhotey because Kishan is a wee fellow and the youngest in the side. "Bhidna" the noun for verb "bhid ke" directly translates to a collision. Attack them, confront them, collide with them. Don't cower. "Even the seniors were not asking me to play carefully today," Kishan said. "They knew against spin I can hit like a madman."
Before Kishan could face him, the bigger Jadeja had already taken a wicket. Kishan got another shot at Dharmendrasinh before he faced Ravindra. Dharmendrasinh began the next over with a long-on and deep midwicket in place. They were telling Kishan to go for it if he felt he was good enough. Kishan was. He was right out of the crease and down to the pitch of the ball twice in his second over, and cleared the fielder at deep midwicket with ease on both occasions. The key was a big and decisive first stride. And then came the sweet connection.
To do it against Dharmendrasinh is one thing, against Ravindra quite another. Ravindra is stronger, bowls flatter and draws more turn. This is obviously early days, but Kishan has an amazing clarity of thought. Some might again laugh at the comparison, but it is almost Sehwag-like. He has no qualms in saying "seam-weam" I don't understand, but he was picking Ravindra easily. "I was picking him from his grip," Kishan said. "When he split the fingers on the ball I knew he was going to go slower and try to turn it from outside off. When he went up regularly, I knew he was going to fire it in.
"So I went by line. When it was straight I felt it was in my reach, and I stepped out and hit. When it was that wider delivery, I played it properly." If he was going to get out, he was going to get out on his terms. Before that, though, he would be laughed at once again.
Jadeja bowled that split-finger delivery early on, which turned and bounced, and Kishan was almost on the floor, trying to cover the line somehow, and fended in front of his face. Ravindra and friends laughed, and mock-gestured among themselves as if playing a bouncer from a quick. The Jharkhand bench went, "Bhid ke khelo." Collide with them.
Collide Kishan did next ball. Down the pitch decisively, he cleared mid-on. Jadeja responded by sending long-on and midwicket back, suspecting Kishan had only one gear. What a good gear he had, if he indeed had only one. Out of the crease again, managing to get under darts from Ravindra, he cleared midwicket and long-on in successive deliveries. The second went out of the ground. Kishan's fifty came up in the 12th over, out of a team score of 64 for 2.
The hitting didn't stop although Kishan admitted he was beaten in the flight in two of his eight sixes. He went ahead with the shots, and made sweet connections still. "Who kheench liye the peeche." [He had dragged the length back.] When Kishan finally miscued for the first time, he had reached 87, off just 69 balls, out of a team score of 120, hitting eight sixes and four fours. Jaydev Unadkat got under the ball, shouted out "mine", and perhaps knew this was the big catch, went up with fingers pointing up, and let it slip. He stuck out a hand to catch the rebound, and the relief on his face was palpable. This 17-year-old was pushing Saurashtra into the ditch they had dug for Jharkhand.
Ravindra ran towards Unadkat. The whole Saurashtra team assembled. Jadeja broke the huddle and patted the back of Kishan, which is not a common sight in the highly competitive world of domestic cricket. Not bad for someone who was laughed at even before he faced the first ball. Jharkhand went on to duly collapse for 168, and their spinners provided too many long hops and full tosses to Saurashtra to let them take a 35-run lead, which can prove crucial on this pitch where spinners have taken 19 wickets on the first day.
There is a remarkable un-coached freshness to this Patna kid who had to move to Ranchi because the BCCI until this year didn't recognise Bihar cricket. He may or may not repeat such efforts in the future, but with the Under-19 World Cup coming up, and with Rahul Dravid to be the coach of that side, he might just get the perfect coach to show him to pick "seam-weam" and how to build bigger innings.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo