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Explained: The problem with Rishabh Pant, and why India’s options are limited

Rishabh Pant was vigorously trolled on social media for his mistakes, but more importantly, Pucovski’s 100-run partnership with Marnus Labuschagne gave Australia the required base for a good first innings total.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
January 7, 2021 7:09:18 pm
Rishabh Pant, right, throws a helmet to teammate Rohit Sharma during play on day one of the third cricket Test between India and Australia at the Sydney. (AP)

Rishabh Pant dropped two rather simple catches behind the stumps on the first day of the third Test in Sydney, allowing Will Pucovski to score a half-century on his Test debut.

Pant was vigorously trolled on social media for his mistakes, but more importantly, Pucovski’s 100-run partnership with Marnus Labuschagne gave Australia the required base for a good first innings total.

India have limited options beyond Pant at the moment, especially in overseas Tests.

How costly was Pant’s errors?

On the last ball of the 22nd over, Pucovski edged a Ravichandran Ashwin delivery, but Pant failed to hold on to the catch. The Australian opener was on 26 then.

In the last ball of the 25th over, Pucovski gloved a short delivery from Mohammed Siraj and it looped up behind Pant. The wicketkeeper dived, his palms over the ball instead of being underneath it, and floored the catch. The debutant was on 32 then. He went on to score 62.

Also, from India’s point of view, the team missed out on the opportunity of Ashwin bowling to Steve Smith when there was still a bit of moisture on the surface.

What’s the problem with Pant’s ’keeping?

A CricViz Analyst tweet shows that Pant’s catch success percentage in Tests is 93% against pace and 56% against spin. “Since the start of 2018, Rishabh Pant averages 0.86 dropped catches per Test played. Of all keepers to play 10 matches in that time, Pant’s drops-per-Test record is the worst,” says another tweet from the same handle.

According to former India wicketkeeper Kiran More, the 23-year-old has some technical issues. “His body balance, his hands going away from his body etc. Nothing major, some small technical issues,” More, who has worked with Pant, told The Indian Express.

“Pant is young. He has been playing Test cricket for two years and he will learn,” the former stumper added.

Why India have been continuing with Pant?

The Indian team management picks Pant ahead of Wriddhiman Saha, especially in away Tests, because of his superior batting abilities. The left-hander has two centuries and as many fifties in 14 Tests so far (the ongoing one is his 15th) and with the team management preferring to go with five bowlers, Pant offers the extra batting cushion. Even in the last Test in Melbourne, his 40-ball 29 in the first innings saw India wrest the initiative.

Then again, Pant is always prone to a few clangers behind the stumps, which in low-scoring matches and/or in bowling-friendly conditions don’t make his team suffer much. But on good pitches like the one that has been laid out at the Sydney Cricket Ground, dropped catches can prove to be very costly.

And what about Saha?

Saha is a world-class ’keeper. He has played some important knocks as well. But his Test batting average away from home is a shade over 27. With five bowlers in the side, Saha doesn’t provide the required balance.

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Ever since Adam Gilchrist redefined the role of a ’keeper-batsman in Test cricket at the turn of the century, ’keepers are expected to be very good batsmen as well. In home Tests, when the extra batting cushion is not required, Saha becomes an automatic choice on turning pitches. But away from home, his batting has failed to inspire confidence.

So, are India’s options limited beyond Pant?

That K L Rahul was the back-up ’keeper after Saha and Pant in the Indian Test squad in Australia, tells the story.

A couple of years ago, Andhra ’keeper-batsman K S Bharat was added to the Indian Test squad during a home series against Bangladesh. But he wasn’t included even in an extended Test squad for the series in Australia, signalling that he had fallen off the selectors’ radar.

Delhi’s Anuj Rawat or Jharkhand’s Ishan Kishan don’t look to be in the selectors’ scheme of things either. Sanju Samson has never been considered for long-form cricket.

Rahul is India’s first-choice ’keeper in white-ball internationals, but Test match ’keeping is a different ball game which demands top-class technique and the ability to concentrate for long periods. The red ball swings virtually all day. Also, in Test cricket, spinners have a far greater role to play – a stern test of a ’keeper’s technique.

There’s a dearth of top quality ’keeping-batting talent at the moment. A top-class ’keeper-batsman, someone who is equally good behind the wickets and with the bat, doesn’t pop up at regular intervals. Over the past 50-odd years in Indian cricket, only two players have fulfilled these requirements – Farokh Engineer and MS Dhoni.

What has Pant’s learning curve been like?

Indian cricket has invested heavily in Pant. The likes of Ajay Ratra, a former India stumper, looked after him at the National Cricket Academy. More had stints with him. But the youngster has been repeating his mistakes.

According to More, a specialist wicketkeeping coach in the Indian team will accelerate his development. “The Indian team has a specialist batting coach, a bowling coach and a fielding coach. I think there should be a wicketkeeping coach as well, who will do round-the-year monitoring of the likes of Pant and other youngsters playing for India U-19 and India A. I had short stints with Pant – two days, 10 days. But there needs to be continuity. Pant is a talented cricketer and he will improve,” More told this paper.

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