On October 19, Chennai Super King, with the last chance they had in the Indian Premier League season, failed and MS Dhoni walked out to the post-match presentation against Rajasthan Royals and uttered the word that sent the entire Twittersphere into an immediate meltdown.
Not ‘process’, not ‘we were not up to the mark’ and all that stuff that preceded in the previous presentation ceremonies. CSK were thoroughly beaten and they had no response and out came, MS Dhoni talking about “spark” in youngsters, a comment that now put in words makes complete sense.
“You don’t want to chop and change. Insecurity is something you don’t want to prevail in the dressing room. Also the youngsters, we didn’t see the spark to push the guys,” Dhoni told Star Sports after CSK’s defeat against Rajasthan Royals.
When the Indian team were preparing for the five-match T20I series against England, something similar struck Virat Kohli. He wasn’t electrocuted but his approach in T20Is suddenly became the voltage point of discussion. Until then, India were a top T20I side, filled with superstars but the show was never a blockbuster. And in reality, it never could become one.
The show had so many naive elements, which really made it partly worrying and wholesomely boring. India would never put out a blockbuster performance, uh-uh, until Sunday, March 14, when they handed out debuts to Mumbai Indians thorough-bred match-winners, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan. While the stars seemingly gazed at the skies, it was the thunder which took over the precedence.
India’s approach in T20Is was branded as boring, monotonous and often anchor-ish, with four out of their top four being anchors, who, at all points in their career, were never short of runs. But what they were short of, though, was energy, strike-rates and plenty of thunderous bolts. So when India brought out their X-factor batsman Ishan Kishan and opened the innings, the shock from the thunderstorm left the English team stunned and paralysed.
An out and out, last of its kind from the 20th generation kid, Kishan had not just married runs with aggression but had done it effortlessly and in a jiffy, where his runs often would come out before you realise. When Shikhar Dhawan was dismissed for a 12-ball four, none hoped anything would change, at least this dramatically in the span of two days. India learnt their lessons, match-winners were required and not anchors, accumulators.
In the first T20I, they were out-batted, out-witted and out-lasted by the English team, which all pointed in the direction of change. Change is the only constant, in a format especially where every new day brings something new. Change is, in fact, the only inevitable constant. Elsewhere, in England, there was Jason Roy - a man perennially until then was troubled by spinners. What did he do? Step out, broke the fear and bent it around with his reverse-sweeps, it didn’t work a hell lot but it did so enough to put the bowlers in fear.
The biggest difference in Ishan Kishan’s game has been his improvement against pace.— Cricket With Ash (@CricketWithAsh) March 15, 2021
In IPL 2018 he averaged just around 25, but in IPL 2020 he doubled that. And his SR against pace went up from 125 to 150. He’s improved on his game square of the wicket.#INDvENG #IshanKishan pic.twitter.com/NblI5mRIiw
And India married that same aggression and experimentation - opening with Ishan Kishan and KL Rahul. Rahul, though an aggressor of his own, endured a rough patch of form in the last few white-ball games, where starts were seemingly tough. But that paired with an aggressor at the other end showed a new blueprint in India’s T20I progression. A formula in a format ever-developing, India got the best out of the experiment. He wasn’t out swinging, he was out there defeating, trashing the demons - on and off the pitch.
His first shot was a flick for a boundary off Jofra Archer. But that didn’t get him going. It was his six against Tom Curran, that came in the sixth over of the innings - the last of the powerplay ones - which did. Until then, he had scored just 12 off 10, not quite worthy of the hype, especially after the fact that he scored a boundary of his first delivery. That six though changed his night; changed the thoughts that surrounded him and immediately, put him on the pedestal.
India’s past-luck with aggressors has been very poor, either they have all been highly inconsistent, highly injury-prone or just at the wrong place at the wrong time when Indian cricket was still understanding the changing T20 cricket. Sanju Samson, for eg, got his opportunity, got off to starts but has had a tough task with the fitness tests and not showing enough, was dropped.
Suryakumar, on the other hand, had to wait for his turn, more than anticipated and yet when he made his debut, had to wait until Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer wrapped up things. During all these times, the spark that kept the Indian team in a blaze - the 22-year-old from Jharkhand - left with a small fear and a big smile. The fear of missing out (FOMO) but a big smile of scoring a fifty.
When he smoked two sixes off Adil Rashid’s delivery, he brought up his fifty off 28 balls, and yet was hesitant in celebrating. He even came out in the video posted by BCCI stating that he never celebrates half-century. That would be ‘arrogance’ in other words but in this T20I setup of India, that is the much-needed spark, the runs never matter as much as the approach. Kohli reminded him that it was a top-innings, for him, it was merely a start, it was as though the crowd already started applauding the drama before the curtains were drawn and the characters bowed down.
"No, I wasn’t nervous to be honest. To be honest, I did not realise that I had reached my fifty. Then Virat Bhai said ‘top innings’ then I understood that I’d completed my half-century. Usually, I’m not inclined towards raising my bat after a fifty, I barely raise my bat for celebration after half a ton,” Kishan replied to Yuzi in the video posted by BCCI.TV.
Yuzvendra Chahal’s reply was imminent, “Attitude dekh rahe ho,” he uttered the same breath. This was the attitude that India missed, this was the attitude that put fears into the minds of the opposition, this is the exact one that makes a leg shake and a few teammates glim with a smile. The spark didn’t just start but it had ignited a new revolution in Indian cricket and Ishan is just a young part of it.
During his Mumbai Indians’ days, coach Mahela Jayawardene had pointed out that Ishan was quite a deal, quite tough to handle emotionally. Over the next two years, he transformed himself, in all possible ways, devoting himself to the game. He was no more looked at as just a player but as a package, as someone that could light up the environment. It was almost like he came in to take the road that Samson had taken before that axe. It was almost like he was destined to be in the scheme of things that Kohli had lavished in the presser.
It was almost like he was fittingly honoured for showing way at the top of the order, that the new age Indian stars didn’t fear, only feared not finishing off games for the country. But the start was here, Ishan and Suryakumar are mere actors in the world of changing T20 cricket and India have seemingly just sparked a new genre of T20 cricket - electric and eccentric.
When Ishan was dismissed, via a stumping, there was still someone in the parallel universe, yelling “oh careless of him to get out via a stumping” but on Sunday, there was none really there, the approach and criticism that surrounding the new brand of cricket started getting acceptance. Dhoni’s spark was here, finally - not for CSK but for the Indian team.
Ishan didn’t win alone, he didn’t even win with Suryakumar, but it was Indian cricket, which won, finally, via their approach.