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Ishan Kishan growing into the player Mumbai always knew he'd be

The wicketkeeper batsman used to just want to hit everything, but now he's playing more intelligently

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
Ishan Kishan swings one away for a boundary  •  BCCI

Ishan Kishan swings one away for a boundary  •  BCCI

The Mumbai Indians management was not too pleased with 19-year-old Ishan Kishan in 2018. He wasn't taking his diets seriously, he wasn't walking into the gym with the right attitude, he was joking around too much, he was waking up at noon when training began at 1pm, and he wasn't impressing head coach Mahela Jayawardene and batting coach Robin Singh all that much in the pre-tournament preparation.
"You're not applying yourself, you're basically being a d***head," strength and conditioning coach Paul Chapman was seen telling Kishan in front of other squad members in the gym in Netflix's show on the franchise's 2018 season, Cricket Fever.
"He just wants to hit everything, he cannot work the ball," Singh said on the show of Kishan's shot selection during a practice game at Wankhede Stadium. "He could use a little more intelligence. He has a lot of talent, but he has to channel it in the right place."
Mumbai had invested heavily in Kishan, especially financially, having bought him in the 2018 auction for a whopping INR 6.2 crore, nearly a million dollars at that time, and when they were expected to put up a fight to defend their 2017 title, Kishan scored only 275 runs after playing all 14 games.
Kishan was clearly under the pump that season. In another scene from the Netflix show, a visibly irritated Kishan is seen outside his hotel room, saying to the camera: "Seriously, I don't want to talk about cricket right now. You know I am not performing well, it's not in my mind right now."
A year later, Kishan disappointed even more with the bat, scoring just 101 runs in the seven games he got. Nobody would have raised an eyebrow had Mumbai released him after that but they retained him once again. When IPL 2020 started in the UAE, Kishan's No. 4 spot for the first two games went to his Jharkhand team-mate Saurabh Tiwary, who, the management felt, was better equipped to handle fast bowlers. Tiwary's bigger frame and stronger arms could also clear bigger boundaries more easily compared to Kishan, one would think, who was expected to bide his time.
Luckily for Kishan, in only the third game, against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the door reopened for him as Tiwary picked a niggle. Tiwary had impressed with his scores of 42 and 21, striking at 143, which made the door for Kishan more of a tiny window to perform in and impress the management quickly.
And while top batsmen like Virat Kohli and Glenn Maxwell are struggling for good starts in the tournament, Kishan nearly won Mumbai the match in his very first outing, by smashing 99 off 58 balls, studded with nine sixes, to take the game to a Super Over with Kieron Pollard, by hammering 89 off the last five overs while chasing 202.
Instead of hitting everything from the beginning, like Singh said about him two years ago, Kishan understands his role is to take the game deep and set things up for Hardik Pandya and Pollard.
"I have been working with them (Pandya and Pollard) for the last three years and I know how they plan the game," Kishan said on Saturday. "It's not only about power hitting [but also] how they take the game to last over or how they put pressure on the bowlers also.
"At the same time how they rotate the strike. So this is something I am learning from them. How to keep players (oppositions) confused [about] what's your next move. It's not just that you go there and start hitting."
Kishan's maturity was on display in that knock when he first played the anchor to score at almost run a ball until the 10th over after Mumbai lost Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav early. Soon after the halfway mark, Kishan struck two sixes in an over off Navdeep Saini - the best bowler on that day - and later targeted Yuzvendra Chahal too when Pollard was setting his eye in after Pandya's dismissal.
Kishan struck seven out of his nine sixes on his favoured leg side with massive heaves and hooks, and he understands that oppositions will be planning for him accordingly, which has made him work on his off-side game.
"I was not good at playing shots through covers and all but I have worked a lot in this off-season and if I get the ball over there, definitely I will go for it because it's something that every team plans for you," Kishan said. "They have meetings before the match, they know what is the weak spot and where they have to bowl to us, but it's important for us to practice about that in the off-season."
With scores level at the end against the Royal Challengers and all his energy sapped by the Dubai heat and humidity, Kishan was unable to bat in the Super Over. The cameras showed him sitting on the ground in the dugout, with his gear drenched in sweat and head in his hands, watching his team score only seven runs off Saini, off whom Kishan had earlier scored 38 off 20 with as many as four sixes and a four.
"He was left out of the first few games and then he got an opportunity so the conversation was just to go and bat normally. I thought he had a very good start, the tempo was very good," Jayawardene said of Kishan later at the press conference.
"During the middle period, we just wanted to make sure that he (Kishan) bats through the innings. We knew that we could put their bowling under pressure, so the message for him was to take it deep, because we had lost a few wickets, so he did that brilliantly and took his chances, played some really good shots.
"I think it's important you have a senior guy (Pollard) guiding the younger guy out there in the middle on a tough situation. So Ishan would learn a lot from that knock."
With 10 matches still to go in the league stage for Mumbai and the next one in a batting-friendly Sharjah stadium against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday, all Kishan has to do now is score consistently and repay the management's faith in him.

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo