Ishan Kishan
India’s Ishan Kishan plays a shot during the Asia Cup 2023 one-day international (ODI) cricket match against Pakistan at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Kandy, Sri Lanka, on September 2, 2023. Kishan struck 82 in the century partnership with Hardik Pandya to shore up India’s score. Image Credit: AFP

How do India solve a problem like Ishan Kishan? The lefthander’s success in Asian Cup cricket poses a selection headache. What will happen to Kishan when K.L. Rahul returns? Rahul was to have played in the Asia Cup, but the Karnataka batter’s continuing injury issues provided an opportunity for Kishan, who grabbed it with both hands.

The 25-year-old struck 82 against one of the fearsome attacks in international cricket. His 81-ball knock on Friday was invaluable since it came when India were tottering against the Pakistan pace battery. Kishan walked in during the 15th over with the Indian score reading 66/4. In the company of Hardik Pandya, Kishan strung together a century partnership that propelled India to a respectable total of 266.

It was an innings of character in the face of adversity. A knock that spoke volumes about Kishan’s ability to succeed in the cauldron of international cricket. He wasn’t awestruck by the occasion, nor did he curb his strokemaking skills, despite being slotted in the middle order. Kishan played like the opener Kishan of the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League. And it was such a delight.

KL Rahul and his recurring injuries

The knock against Pakistan is enough for Kishan to retain his place in the Indian XI for the rest of the Asia Cup matches. That should give Rahul more time to recover from his injury. Not just that. Rahul has come into the Asia Cup without match practice. Perhaps the Indian team management wanted to use the Asia Cup as match practice for Rahul ahead of the World Cup in October.

Fair thought, but that would be unfair to Kishan. Why is India insistent on playing Rahul, who struggles for fitness and form? Rahul is a class player. No doubt about that. He’s played some sterling innings in the past. But he’s been struggling lately, and the injuries haven’t helped.

At 31, there’s plenty of cricket left in Rahul. Maybe it’s time the Indian selectors look beyond him till he returns to full fitness. There are plenty of high-calibre batters who could replace him. That will give Rahul time to recover from injuries and return to represent India with renewed energy.

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It would give players like Kishan and Sanju Samson a chance to play international cricket. Kishan beat Samson to the wicketkeeper slot, vacated by an injured Rishabh Pant, with a string of fine scores in the West Indies. So it was no surprise when he was named to the Asia Cup squad, but Rahul’s return was sure to keep Kishan out of the playing XI. But injury woes blighted Rahul again, allowing Kishan to display his batting skills against Pakistan.

Rahul’s availability will eject Kishan from the World Cup team, but he can remain in the squad as a reserve batter. For that, he would have to beat the competition from Suryakumar Yadav and Tilak Varma. After several scratchy innings, Yadav has run into form against Ireland, while Varma’s fighting knocks in the Caribbean have helped improve his prospects.

Kishan can seal his place in the India World Cup squad if he continues to bat fearlessly and score consistently in the Asia Cup. More power to the pocket dynamo from Jharkhand.