The battle for the wicket-keeper spot in the Indian playing XI for the upcoming World Test Championship (WTC) final against Australia has been up for debate, with both KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan making strong cases for their selection.
The marquee matchup to determine the World Test champion for the 2021-23 cycle is set to be played at the Kensington Oval starting June 7.
While the flamboyant Rishabh Pant would have been an obvious choice as wicket-keeper, his injury has caused a headache for the management and selectors on whom to play between KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan in the role.
Several former cricketers have weighed in on this discussion, taking into account their wicket-keeping prowess, batting style, and experience.
Speaking on the ICC review, former India coach Ravi Shastri felt that Bharat's wicket-keeping against the spinners and having already played in the recent Test series against Australia could tilt selection in his favor.
"Now, if two spinners are playing, then you would want Bharat to play. You have to see who's a better keeper. Is it Bharat or Ishan Kishan? Now, the fact that Bharat was given a run against Australia, where he played all the Test matches, I think he would be the obvious choice to go with," Shastri said.
However, the former all-rounder was quick to point out that the gap was not big between the two and said:
"There's not much there. It's not that one guy is far better than the other. Batting will also come into play, whether you want Ishan Kishan's batting to shore up the middle order. That's another thing you'll take into perspective."
Shastri also added that the bowling combination India takes the field with could dictate the choice of their wicket-keeper in the summit clash.
"Are you going to go with four fast bowlers? Then there's not much spin and you just need someone decent behind the stumps to do the job. So that you would leave to team management. Just before the game, they would weigh in just these little things that I've just said, and obviously look at current form."
"I think Bharat will be a pretty straightforward choice because playing Ishan Kishan in his debut and a Test match straight in the World Test Championship Final is asking a bit too much. And the fact that KS Bharat probably tips the scale in favour of himself just a little bit with this keeping edge that he has got. So I do think they will go in with KS Bharat for the final," Karthik said.
Speaking to Star Sports, former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh also voiced his support for KS Bharat, considering the 29-year-old was part of the Indian team in their most recent Test series at home against Australia.
However, Harbhajan also stated his preference for experienced wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha had he been picked in the squad and KL Rahul if not for injury.
"No, I don’t think he (Kishan) should be in the starting 11 because KS Bharat has been playing consistently for some time. If it was Wriddhiman Saha, then I would consider playing him because he has more experience and is a better keeper. If KL Rahul was fit, I would have played him instead, at number five or six, because he is a proper opener and he could keep as well," Harbhajan said.
Meanwhile, Australian opening great Matthew Hayden took a different stance during an interaction with PTI and believed that India should go with the more dynamic batting option of Ishan Kishan as a like-to-like replacement for the swashbuckling Rishabh Pant.
"One of the big losses to Indian cricket right now is Rishabh Pant. If I was an Indian selector, I certainly go with the more dynamic wicketkeeper batter Ishan Kishan, he also adds that bit of swagger to the batting line up and in the fielding unit as well," Hayden remarked.
While KS Bharat has featured in four Tests for India in the recent Border-Gavaskar Trophy at home, Ishan Kishan is yet to make his Test debut.
However, what could tip the scales in favor of Kishan is if Team India is looking for a dynamic batter who could score runs quickly.
"One bad match doesn’t make him a bad keeper" - Former Indian wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia back KS Bharat for the WTC Final
Mongia, who played 44 Tests for India, felt that conditions in England would require a specialist keeper, justifying his choice.
Speaking on Star Sports, he said:
"I would play Bharat as a specialist keeper in England because he has done well. One bad match doesn’t make him a bad keeper. He is a specialised keeper; he has been doing well over a period of time. Whatever limited chances he has gotten in the Indian team, he has done reasonably well to retain his place."
"Conditions in England… it is one of the most difficult places to keep wicket. The ball wobbles a lot, dips a lot, especially in the first half. You need to get up with the ball, have to watch all 90 overs. I know how hard it is because we played the World Cup and it really thumps your palm and it really hits your gloves."
Another former Indian wicket-keeper Saba Karim supported the selection of KS Bharat ahead of Ishan Kishan during an interaction with Times of India.
"I don't think at this stage they will want to play Ishan Kishan. I think they will persist with KS Bharat since he has kept wickets for India in the home series. The kind of security Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma want to give the players, I think they will continue with Bharat. If they had played Ishan in the home series, I think he could have a chance. But since they haven't done that, I don't think they will take the chance in a crucial game like this and play him straightaway," said Karim.
However, former India batter Mohammad Kaif felt the team would be better off going with Ishan Kishan to play a similar batting role to Rishabh Pant against the old ball.
Speaking to Star Sports, Kaif said:
"I would play Ishan Kishan over KS Bharat because you want someone to play attacking shots at number six. After all, the ball is old, and Rishabh Pant used to play that role."
Despite a disappointing showing with the bat in the recent four-Test series against Australia, KS Bharat has more experience in first-class and international Test cricket than Ishan Kishan.
This could tilt the selectors to pick the right-handed Bharat ahead of the Mumbai Indians opener for this crucial one-off encounter.