At the end of the first game, it was the batting that was the big concern for India. Virat Kohli spoke about it too. The hosts had only managed a total of 124, with more than half of those runs being scored by Shreyas Iyer, and the skipper demanded better shot selection. But in the second T20 International against England on Sunday, India found themselves in trouble once again after just one over as KL Rahul was sent packing with not a single run on the board.

However, just when it seemed England would dominate with the ball for the second game running, a debutant and a veteran got together to forge a partnership that all but killed the contest.

Ishan Kishan, opening the batting in his first international game, and Kohli, decidedly out of form coming in, added 94 runs in just 54 deliveries to set up a comfortable seven-wicket win for the hosts.

With Kohli announcing before the start of the first game that senior pro Rohit Sharma would be rested for a couple of matches at least, India had made it clear that they were willing to experiment with their playing XI in order to test more players. This is why it didn’t come as much of a surprise when Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav, the two standout batsmen for Mumbai Indians in their triumphant IPL 2020 campaign, were handed their debut caps, in place of Shikhar Dhawan and Axar Patel.

India won the toss and did a fine job with the ball, restricting England to a below-par total of 164 on a batting-friendly Ahmedabad pitch. And after the hiccup of Rahul’s dismissal, the hosts took command once again with a partnership that saw two batsmen play their roles to perfection.

A finished product

Watching Kishan bat, it’s easy to forget he’s just 22 years old. Despite the high voltage strokeplay he brings to the table, there’s a calmness with which he goes about his business. He has gone through the grind of domestic cricket in his young career and he gives the been-there-done-that impression. A testament to that is his expressionless face from the time the bowler begins his run-up to when the ball meets his bat.

On Sunday, the left-hander did exactly what was expected of him – take the attack to the opposition and keep up the run-rate. The first ball he faced in international cricket, by Jofra Archer no less, was guided with ease to the fine-leg boundary for four. And from there on, he almost always found the middle of the bat.

Sam Curran was pulled ferociously for four. His brother Tom was pulled to the fence too, apart from being drilled past cover and hoicked all the way over long-on. While Adil Rashid was swept from outside off for four before being hit for back-to-back sixes. And before you knew it, Kishan had raced to a 28-ball fifty on debut.

Kishan doesn’t really manufacture shots but that doesn’t stop him from picking boundaries all around the park. And that’s the brilliance of his batting. There’s a surety in his shot-making which helps him accumulate runs without taking too many risks.

“Credit goes to my seniors who told me to go and express myself,” said Kishan after picking up the player of the match award. “It’s not easy to come and play your first game against a quality side. Mumbai Indians helped me a lot too and I want to continue the momentum. I was disappointed with the fact that I didn’t finish the game.”

Captain’s knock

Just like Kishan, Kohli did what was expected of him too. He is perhaps the best there has ever been in pacing a chase and he showed yet again what he’s capable of when he’s in the zone.

He may not have admitted it but the India captain was surely under some amount of pressure heading into the game. Having not scored an international century since August 2019, Kohli got two ducks in the preceding Test series and registered another score of zero in the opening T20I. He had said he would simply focus on the process as he always has but he needed a boost in confidence. And that came with the fifth ball he faced as he pulled Archer in front of square for four.

Kohli then did what he does best – anchor the innings by rotating the strike and punishing the loose balls. He let Kishan and Rishabh Pant be the aggressors and got to 47 off 34 with minimum fuss, before upping the ante and hitting 26 runs off the last 15 balls he faced. The icing on the cake, of course, were the two signature flick/pull shots he played to pick up four and six to close out the win.

“I had to shift the focus back to the basics of the game,” said Kohli during the post-match presentation ceremony. “I always take pride in doing the job for the team. We have a great management that keeps us in the right space. And also I had a special chat with AB de Villiers before the start of the game and he just told me to watch the ball. That’s exactly what I did.”

There’s no denying that the Indian team looks a different beast when Kohli is in form. And now, with Kishan announcing his arrival in style at the top of the order, the hosts will be a lot more confident about their batting heading into the third T20I on Tuesday.

England, as captain Eoin Morgan pointed out after the game, surely missed Mark Wood who made a big impact in the opener. But even as one counts on the visitors to fight back, the momentum is definitely with India thanks to Kohli and Kishan’s sublime stand.