Ishan Kishan: a victim of mental fatigue or dugout blues?

The case of the 25-year-old batter does not seem to hinge on performance at all, and this is where the BCCI could have shown a little more clarity

Ishan Kishan in action in the T20 against Australia in Vishakapatnam in November 2023 (photo: National Herald archives)
Ishan Kishan in action in the T20 against Australia in Vishakapatnam in November 2023 (photo: National Herald archives)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The words ‘mental fatigue’ still seem to be taboo in Indian cricket. It’s something Ishan Kishan, the team's best bet as a keeper-batter in the absence of Rishabh Pant until the other day, may have realised the hard way, seeing as he was a conspicuous absentee in the squad named for the upcoming three-match T20I series against Afghanistan. 

In what’s the last bilateral series before the T20 World Cup in June, Kishan — who wanted to be excused ahead of the two-Test series in South Africa ostensibly owing to mental fatigue — does not find place. Neither does Shreyas Iyer, named the vice-captain of the T20 squad in the five-match series against Australia at home soon after the 50-over World Cup. 

Of course, that does not mean they are out of the equation, as the selectors may want to have a final look at the likes of Jitesh Sharma and the experienced Sanju Samson, given the question mark over Pant’s keeping abilities still hanging in the air. While there may be no more T20Is after this, the performance in the first half of the IPL — which will begin in the last week of March itself — will also hold the key for a call-up to the showpiece in the US and West Indies. 

However, the case of 25-year-old Kishan does not seem to hinge on performance at all, and this is where the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) could have shown a little more clarity on one of its more precocious talents.

The general perception among the cricket media is that after being on the road since the beginning of 2023, the Patna boy decided to take a break citing mental fatigue, and wanted to be released from the squad on the eve of the Tests once he had received reliable dressing room feedback that he would not be needed in the longer format. 

The question that begs to be asked is: whether Kishan had announced his availability ahead  of the Afghanistan series and was snubbed, or he wanted to prolong his timeout from the game. A report in the Times of India quotes BCCI sources as saying that the team management is somewhat miffed at his response to challenging circumstances, and this may not be exactly good news for Kishan’s future, given the problem of plenty that Rahul Dravid & Co have at their disposal.  

Barely days after returning to India, Kishan featured with India women's cricket team star Smriti Mandhana in the reality quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati hosted by Amitabh Bachchan — for which a BCCI green signal was mandatory — while he has not yet turned up for his state Jharkhand in the Ranji Trophy season, which kicked off recently.    

A rewind of Kishan’s performance during the 2022-23 season no doubt betrays a fair degree of inconsistency in the way he was used. It was he who first signalled a clear change of approach at the top of the order in limited-overs cricket with a remarkable 210 off 131 balls against Bangladesh, only to spend the next 10 months as a back-up batsman. At the World Cup, despite being in good form, he only got a chance in the initial stages when Shubman Gill was down with dengue. 

Then, barely three days after the World Cup final defeat, Kishan was at the forefront of India’s highest successful T20 run-chase ever against Australia in Vizag. The 39-ball 58 was an innings that showed that he has managed to retain the hunger despite being on the bench for most of India’s matches since the Asia Cup despite being among the in-form batters.

It’s quite possible that growing frustration may have led to Kishan leaving the ship and heading back home, or it could indeed be mental fatigue — but either way, he has set a rare precedent in Indian cricket. There is certainly a case for any young player to feel disappointed, but given the jostling for a spot in the Indian batting order, such instances have been seen in the past and with some of the finest players — one need not look beyond Samson for the moment.  

There is a five-Test series against England round the corner, but it’s difficult to see Kishan featuring in it, with K.L. Rahul agreeing to keep wickets in Tests and the hosts certain to make way for playing two spinners at home. 

It will then be down to the IPL in March-April where Kishan can shake himself up and be at his ebullient best again! 

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