Seven balls up his sleeve, Ishan Kishan gets a full throw outside his stump. In the blink of an eye, he made his way to the edge of cover. Chamika Karunaratne’s next ball is a shorter, slower delivery. The shoulders come into action. The elbows are blurred. This ball blazes and takes an even faster path towards the rope. Straight cover this time.
In the late 1990s, when Sanath Jayasuriya ruled India against Sri Lanka matches, word swirled around the streets of India that Jayasuriya had hidden springs in his bat. How else did he manage to get the ball flying over the infield when Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad played on him?
Kishan’s bat functions more like a rocket launcher than a trampoline. That he’s not a conventional “bullet timer” is clear, as he throws every milligram of his body weight into some of his shots. But that’s not the same as saying he doesn’t have time. On nights like these, the force that rises from his toes, through his hips, chest, shoulders, arms, wrists, seems to match the energy that his bat, on its own, produces . He’s a big effort hitter mixed with glorious results. The best of both worlds. It took seven years at international level for Jayasuriya to combine his explosive power with the more refined virtues of the stick. Kishan is on his ninth T20I.
But we know where refinement comes from for Kishan, right? He reached 1452 runs in the IPL and commanded a payout package of over US$2 million in the latest auction. He went 56 innings in this competition and 108 T20 innings overall, and during that time he hit in a host of game situations and positions. On Thursday night, he had to face two bowlers over 140 km/h up front, as well as a legpinner and a leftarm spinner, neither of which seriously bothered him. He knocked, as on his debut against England last year, and in several internationals since, as if beating bowlers of all kinds was a birthright.
When Sri Lanka came out to meet Kishan’s 89 of 56 and India’s 199 of 2, they also had promising young hitters. Pathum Nissanka, a top class star who had kind of grown to be a decent T20 batter, having top rated
in the recent series in Australia, opened the innings. Charith Asalanka, who was excellent at the T20 World Cup last year, was beating lower.
During this tour, you might notice their best shots. Like Asalanka’s ramp on Jasprit Bumrah at the end of the fourth. Or his flat, hard, inverted sweep through Ravindra Jadeja’s point on the 14th.
But you might notice it too. India’s young players are largely doing things they’ve done before, going into their memory banks, recalling times in their past in which they triumphed in similar situations, against quality oppositions perhaps a bit worse but not different. Sri Lanka’s young players are always up to the task. The next level. This big step. This vast chasm that they must somehow fill.
Sometimes they succeed. But often they don’t. You see their talent at war with their inexperience when Kamil Mishara, who has all 15 T20s (of any description) on his ledger, hits the second ball he has ever faced from Bumrah to the hedge fence in high, before failing to connect with the next three deliveries, as Bumrah mixes it all up. You see it in Janith Liyanage’s painful 11 of 17, or even in Nissanka’s fatal first ball, where he failed to account for the weak rebound in Lucknow’s pitch. Even Asalanka, the Sri Lankan batter who made the best transition to T20Is in recent years, was dropped twice en route to his half-century.
We won’t tread the many sins of SLC here, as they have been extensively documented in these pages. But even if their officials were competent, Sri Lanka will never have this kind of Indian cricket machine, of which Kishan is a proud product. There are harsh judgments about the Sri Lankan system, but also a bald economy. For much of Kishan’s IPL career, he was coached by one of Sri Lanka’s greatest cricketing minds.
Sri Lanka have two more T20s and two Tests, in a country where they have fared extremely poorly in both formats. If they’re going to get anything out of this tour, they’ll have to achieve the kind of performances they’ve never produced before.
India, like Kishan, fierce at home anyway, just have to do what she did.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in Sri Lanka. @afidelf