KS Bharat’s keeping proficiency might pave way for debut in Nagpur

KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan were both named as keeper-bats in India’s squad for the home Tests against Australia, with the latter being viewed as a like-for-like replacement for Rishabh Pant who met with a nasty car accident towards the end of the last year.

As the countdown for the opening Test of the Border-Gavaskar trophy begins, speculation is rife around who among the two will come into the side in place of Pant? Or will India take the left-field option of playing KL Rahul as a specialist wicketkeeper, a call that would be fraught with risks given his wicket-keeping skills against the red ball are largely unproven.

While Kishan averages 38.76 in domestic cricket, Bharat is there and thereabouts with 37.95. Bharat, however, has had a lot more red-ball exposure, having played 86 matches so far compared to Kishan’s 48. The Andhra stumper is quite proficient, as displayed during the fourth innings of the India-New Zealand Test in Kanpur late in 2021 when he substituted for Wriddhiman Saha. He took excellent catches to dismiss a well-set Will Young and Ross Taylor. He showed good alertness and athleticism to stump Tom Latham off Axar Patel. He collects the ball adeptly on raging turners, and his superior keeping credentials are thus expected to have a bearing on the final decision of the management.

MSK Prasad, former chairman of the senior men’s selection committee, opined Bharat must be given preference over Kishan as he has been groomed as a back-up wicketkeeper, serving as an understudy to Saha and Pant. If India, although, field Kishan, they would be accepting a negative metric in having less specialization behind the sticks. On the other hand, they would have a swashbuckling southpaw in their ranks who can take the attack to the spinners and change the complexion of the game within a session.

”Whenever someone innovates in business or in life, they almost do so by accepting a negative metric that other people are unwilling to accept” argues the poker player Caspar Berry.

Poker is less physical than most of the sports we’re comparing here, but it is just as intense and exciting. Like cricket, it has been around for centuries, though poker has seen a lot more evolution over its lifetime. For example, cricket may have created the One Day International in the 1970s and the Twenty20 variant in 2003, there are dozens of different flavors of poker. Of course, the most famous is Texas hold ’em, though the long list of others includes Omaha, five-card draw, razz, and lowball.

Like cricket, the majority of the rules remain the same across all of these poker variants. This means players that are familiar with the hierarchy of hands in Texas hold’em will not have to relearn them to play five card draw.

In any event, including Kishan in the squad would mean the team dynamics remain the same, with a left-handed game-changer being swapped in for another, but his wicket-keeping skills are not at par with Pant and that would be a massive bone of contention as far as Kishan’s Test debut is concerned. Bharat, hence, is a more likely candidate to replace Pant, even though he may not have the explosive game to dismantle oppositions.

A batter of the classical mould, Bharat has given a good account of himself. He has 4707 runs under his belt and holds the distinction of being the first player to score a triple century in the Ranji Trophy as a wicketkeeper, apart from taking 296 catches and effecting 35 stumpings. He’s ahead in the pecking order as well, and it would be interesting to see if India grant Bharat the deserved opportunity or settle with inadequate expertise in the keeping discipline to give Kishan, armed with the license to play his shots, a go.