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Feature

Ishan Kishan adds the impetus that new-age India have been looking for

Willingness to go hard from the first ball rips contest from England's grasp in series-leveller

Deivarayan Muthu
14-Mar-2021
Jason Roy missed three reverse-sweeps against India's gun spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, but that didn't persuade him to shelve that shot or slow down. He rolled out two more reverse-sweeps against Chahal and swatted them away for boundaries. Such relentless attacking intent at the top has been a missing ingredient in India's T20I recipe for a while.
In the T20I series opener on Friday, India tested out Shikhar Dhawan, who had undergone a transformation of sorts from an anchor to an aggressor in IPL 2020, at the top along with KL Rahul, one half of India's first-choice T20I opening combination; Rohit Sharma being the other (of course).
Dhawan managed a mere 4 off 12 balls on Friday before he was ripped out by Mark Wood. In the second T20I on Sunday, Kishan stepped in for Dhawan and provided India with that magical missing ingredient they've been searching for, on his international debut.
India had lost Rahul for a duck to Sam Curran in a first-over wicket maiden, chasing 165, on a grippy, sluggish Motera track. India's new opener Kishan was anything but sluggish, marrying intent with execution and swagger. He whipped the very first delivery he faced, from Jofra Archer, for four and rumbled to 28-ball half-century. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, Kishan was defensive against just two of the 32 balls he faced, providing a peek into the new, no-holds-barred approach that India captain Kohli had promised on the eve of the series opener.
Kishan's left-handedness at the top may have also foiled England's plan of using legspinner Adil Rashid as a new-ball enforcer once again. Eoin Morgan held Rashid back until the eighth over and once he came on, Kishan lined him up and smoked him for 21 off 10 balls, including two sixes (and one rather ugly drop).
Kishan had started out as a leg-side basher in white-ball cricket, but in the UAE in IPL 2020, he expanded his repertoire without losing his explosiveness. Quite surprisingly, Kishan didn't start the last IPL season for the Mumbai Indians, with the franchise leaning towards his Jharkhand state-mate Saurabh Tiwary, who seemed better-equipped to access the shorter, straighter boundaries in Abu Dhabi.
The dimensions in Ahmedabad are fairly comparable to the ones in Abu Dhabi: the square boundaries are longer than the straighter ones. So Kishan showcased his white-ball evolution by not targetting his favourite square boundaries and instead peppering the arc between deep midwicket and wide long-on. He scored 25 runs in that arc, as opposed to 16 square on the wicket on either side.
All of this meant Kishan dominated a 94-run second-wicket stand with Kohli and bent England's attack out of shape.
"When you play in the IPL with such dominance like he has, against quality bowlers, we've seen him hit international fast bowlers for big sixes," Kohli said of Kishan at the post-match presentation. "He's a fearless character. He should continue to back his instincts. We had a conversation out in the middle where he understood and analysed the game very smartly. He knew he was hitting the ball well so he kept taking his chances. But he was calculated. He wasn't reckless. And that's what you want to see in youngsters. Coming in, looking composed, still backing themselves but being aware of what the situation of the game is and I think today that counterattacking innings of his and our partnership [94 runs off 54 balls] was something that the team needed and he provided that for the team."
Kishan's Man-of-the-Match-winning performance on T20I debut only enhances his reputation as a versatile player. He can also float in the middle order, as he has done successfully for Mumbai, and keep wickets when needed. He said that he was open to performing any role for India as they tune up for the T20 World Cup that they will host later this year.
"I feel that as you play higher levels in cricket, there's no fixed spot for you," Kishan said during the post-match virtual-media interaction. "It's not like you will only open; you keep on floating. Like there's a lot of emphasis on left-right combination these days, so I don't think of any spot, I play the situation. I try to do whatever the team needs from me."
The evening started for Kishan with Kohli handing over his maiden cap, and it ended with his captain patting him on his head and an Ahmedabad crowd of 66,352 clapping him off. "I don't know if I'm going to get this feeling again. It was truly….I was just looking all over the ground and I was so happy that finally I'm here," Kishan said at the post-match presentation. And he certainly belongs here.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo