“Kahaan khel rahe ho? (Where are you batting),” Satyam Kumar texted his friend Ishan Kishan a day before India’s match against Pakistan. The reply from Ishan was “Neeche shayad paanch pe (Down the order maybe at No 5). Ishan’s reply prompted Satyam to call his friend and his former roommate at Sports Authority of India (SAIL) hostel in Ranchi, to encourage him since he was playing out of his position.
“Fight karenge bhaiya… scoring against Pakistan at No 5 might prove to be a game-changer for me,” Ishan told Satyam over the phone from Kandy.
“He has always been a very positive boy. I have known him for the past 13 years. Ishan, Monu Kumar (Jharkhand seamer) and myself, we have spent so much time together. I was the one who taught him how to cook Maggi,” laughs Satyam.
Ishan was 12 when he shifted to a SAIL quarter in Doranda, Ranchi. He shared the flat with two others twice his age. “They used to cook food and Ishan, who had no clue about cooking, was given the job to clean the utensils,” recalled Satyam. “One day I asked him what had for dinner, he said ‘chips and coke.’ Then I taught him how to cook Maggi. It became his staple diet after that.”
On Saturday, when Ishan Kishan walked out to bat at No 5, it was a rather unfamiliar job for him but during his knock of 82, he showed he can adapt to any position.
Satyam points out the reason why the process was so seamless. “He has played all his cricket on a matting wicket, be it Patna or Ranchi. In Bihar and Jharkhand, only Jamshedpur used to have turf wickets because of the Keenan Stadium. In Ranchi, the first turf wicket was at JSCA International Stadium, which was inaugurated in 2013. He is not as elegant as some left-handed batters. He is not pleasing to the eye but he is destructive and knows how to score runs. That’s the DNA of Ranchi cricket. Mahi bhaiya bhi aise hi khelte tey (MS Dhoni also used to play like this),” he said.
There is something about the locality Doranda in Ranchi. The area has produced two wicketkeepers for India. One is former India captain the peerless MS Dhoni and the other is Ishan Kishan, who on Saturday showed he belonged at this level. Dhoni’s cricketing journey started at MECON cricket stadium. Ishan’s started at SAIL’s cricket ground, a km away from Dhoni’s home.
Twelve years ago, when MS Dhoni hit the winning six at Wankhede, around 1740 kms far in Patna, a 12-year-old boy was packing his bags in Patna and was getting ready to move to Ranchi in search of a better cricketing future.
Arun Vidyarthi, a cricket coach in Ranchi, who played a crucial role in bringing Ishan to Ranchi from Patna, says people at SAIL laughed at him when he said the kid might play for India one day.
“Ranchi se ek Dhoni kaafi hai (One Dhoni from Ranchi is enough). They taunted me. It was not their fault also, they had not seen him bat. It took me a week to convince them that Ishan is good. They said okay we will give one match. I remember he batted at 7 and remained unbeaten on 28. The knock helped him earn a contract from SAIL, and a stipend of Rs 3000,” said Vidyarthi.
Satyam and Monu made life easy for Ishan in Ranchi. Vidyarthi helped him get a contract. But it was Santosh Kumar, a cricket coach in Patna, who kept on calling Vidyarthi and kept asking him to come and see him play once.
“Bihar cricket was banned by BCCI. There was no cricket in Bihar. When Arun bhai called me once that SAIL is looking for a wicketkeeper-batter, i told him about Ishan. But he didn’t seem excited, citing his age. But when he came and saw him bat and keep, he told me to bring him to Ranchi and I will take care of everything,” reminisced Santosh.
The proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is apt for Ishan’s cricketing journey. It started around 19-years-ago when he accompanied his elder brother Raj Kishan to the Bihar Cricket Academy at the Moin-ul-Haq Cricket Stadium in Patna. Uttam Mazumdar, who was the head coach at the academy, rejected him because of his tender age. Raj insisted that he let him play a few balls otherwise, he would start crying.
“I can’t believe I rejected him once. Now look at him. What a knock he has played. He has earned his place now,” said Mazumdar, who is based in Noida. “I still feel he should open or bat at 3, but this boy has the tenacity of a boxer. He will never back down,” he added.
Ishan Kishan is not MS Dhoni and still has a long way to go, but this knock against Pakistan, batting at No 5 must have triggered deja vu in the Indian cricket fans. Someone from Ranchi has saved India from many difficult positions, and here’s another from the same city, the same locality, who has shown promise.