Ishan Kishan holds the aces for Team India World Cup spot, but Sanju Samson could still be in the running
Ishan Kishan vs Sanju Samson.
In a perfect world, if KL Rahul is healthy, Kishan's performance in the Caribbean, where he was named Player of the Series, would have ended the debate about the second wicketkeeper for the World Cup. But because Rahul and Shreyas Iyer are still not sure if they will play in the Asia Cup, Samson has a small chance.
Here's what we know about Rahul and Iyer for the time being. That they have "started hitting in the nets again and are doing fitness drills to get stronger." This is probably also why both Kishan and Samson got a chance to play in the ODI series in the Caribbean.
Kishan replaced Rohit Sharma at the top of the order, and his 184 runs at a strike rate of 111.51 and a best of 77 in the third ODI in Tarouba on Tuesday may have made a strong case for him to be a reserve opener.
Samson replaced Virat Kohli in the middle, and he was India's third No. 4 in the series after Suryakumar Yadav and Axar Patel. In the decider, he did more than show off his good batting form and ability to hit sixes. He hit 51 runs off 41 balls. Samson has scored 390 runs in 12 ODIs, with an average of 55.71 and three half-centuries.
Here's the thing, though. Rohit, Shubman Gill, and Kohli are almost certain to be India's top three for the World Cup. Kishan can come in as early as No. 4 if he plays wicketkeeper, a position he has tried before and didn't do well in (106 runs in six games), but where Samson does well. So, if Rahul isn't there, the team management has to make a choice, and they need to be ready for this option.
If that's the case, does India still choose Kishan as their first-choice wicketkeeper even though they know he'll have to move to a position he's not used to? Or do they back Samson, who has batted there before, if he makes a strong case in Ireland, where he will get three more chances, even though they will be in a different format?
As the old saying goes, Kishan has a good handle on the things he can control. In Bridgetown, where the first two ODIs were played on tricky grounds, Kishan changed his usually aggressive style to fit the needs of the team and dropped anchor.
Did Samson have the right approach for a No. 4 batter?
On Tuesday, Kishan the marauder was in full swing. He threw his hands at anything wide, pulled with all his might, and used his feet to hit the spinners right away. He was put down at backward point when he was 9 years old, but for most of his knock, he was positive and full of energy, which was typical of him. He was trying to set a certain pace, and he didn't let the players off the hook.
He took the short ball with confidence, whether he was trying to pull it or just helping it down to long leg. Especially impressive was Romario Shepherd's whip behind square for six. Kishan tried to duck at first, but then decided it was worth a shot. He quickly got inside the queue and pulled behind square with his arms. It's a shot that could only have been made with great hand-eye sync. It helped him reach his fifty in 43 balls. The best part of Kishan's game was how quickly he figured out that the surface was a belter and changed his game to match.
But Kishan would have been sad to miss out on an easy hundred. For now, though, he has done everything that has been asked of him, as coach Rahul Dravid said after the ODI series in Barbados.
Samson is a mystery in Twenty20 cricket. Even though he started out as a touch player more than a decade ago, this batter has incredible power and skill. In fact, Dravid chose him to play for Rajasthan Royals. Samson's problem has been that he hasn't been consistent.
In Tarouba, he had to make moves to prove his faith. At No. 4, he came in with 154 for 2 after 23 overs and a stage set up for him. Even though he didn't have to do anything, he might have felt nervous inside. In the second ODI, he only got 9 runs, which was part of a disastrous hitting performance that could have been avoided with a little more care. In the final, he didn't seem to care about that. He came out having fun, going for the hills, clearing his front leg, and looking like he was hell-bent on getting the ball into Port-of-Spain. He hit two sixes on his first four balls against Yannic Cariah, who spins with his legs.
It seemed like his main goal was to keep being mean. Samson was picking deliveries off his pads, flicking them over the ropes, and lofting them inside out. On one occasion, he stayed inside the line to open up the off side and cut behind point to a delivery he could have driven. Samson was moving fields around with a lot of trust.
Samson was just as good when he used his feet to get around the legspinner and go straight down. He hit his fifty off of 39 balls and tried to go big, but he was out when he hit a slower ball straight to mid-off.
You might wonder if he missed a chance to change his mind. Or, you could say that he attacked his way through and played with the passion and focus that was needed at the time. Maybe that's what they'll need on a flat track like Ahmedabad, where maybe 330-340 will be average, especially since dew is expected to play a big role.
Samson has now had three straight T20Is in Ireland, giving him more chances to show why he should be in the middle order. A lot will also depend on how well Rahul and Iyer do. Some people think that the World Cup XI should play the first match of the Asia Cup on September 2 against Pakistan in Pallekele, except for the one odd spot. And if Samson wants to get there, he'll have to have an amazing run of games in Malahide that show more than just hints of what he did in Tarouba.
At the moment, it seems likely that Kishan has the best cards, but Samson is still in the running. If he passes Kishan, it could be because his performance has improved so much that the team's leaders think he's ready to play the middle-order warrior role better than Kishan. In either case, the people making the choice will have a hard time.