In the final ODI of the New Zealand tour in Christchurch, India wicket-keeper and vice-captain Rishabh Pant was out miscuing a pull shot, off the medium pace of Daryl Mitchell. Coming in at No 4 after 13 overs, he had plenty of time to compile a big score. But yet another failure meant his score sequence for the tour was 6, 11, 15 and 10. Pant’s lack of runs has revived the debate about his place in the white-ball team and the non-inclusion of Sanju Samson. As soon as Pant got out in Christchurch, social media was flooded with outrage about the team’s decision to keep the Kerala keeper-batsman on the sidelines.
Earlier on this tour, Samson had got support from former New Zealand pacer Simon Doull. “Rishabh Pant’s record is a decent sample size. He has played just under 30 games and only averages 35, the strike-rate is good. But Sanju in 11 games is averaging 60-something. And I don’t think he is any less of a wicketkeeper. I just think he deserves an opportunity as well,” Doull had told Cricbuzz.
However, former India skipper Sunil Gavaskar threw his weight behind Pant, saying that the 25-year old was captaincy material. “If you ask me, I am still staying, I would look at Rishabh Pant as the next India captain.”
Gavaskar gave Rohit Sharma’s example to make his point. “For one reason only, just like Rohit Sharma was given the captaincy of Mumbai Indians when Ricky Ponting stepped down, look at the change in his batting after that. Suddenly the responsibility of being captain made him convert those beautiful cameos of the 30s, 40s and 50s into hundreds, 150s and 200s. I think that sense of responsibility given to Rishabh Pant will help him score many more of that wonderful hundred he scored at Newlands,” Gavaskar said.
It hasn’t manifested that way for Pant, rather it has been quite the opposite. In June this year, while leading against South Africa, Pant scored just 58 runs in five T20Is with a strike rate of 105.45. His modes of dismissal were also similar; he repeatedly tried to hit to the leg side deliveries bowled wide outside off stump by the left-arm-spinner Keshav Maharaj.
“He must think, ‘I am getting out hitting deliveries. It is not coming in my arc. I have even moved outside off stump and yet I am not able to do that. So now what do I do? Do I try to make my off-side shots better? Do I have to only look at playing on the on side? Can I use my power and my timing? Can I start hitting it straight? Or should I hit over extra cover?’ And that’s the danger part because that is where you slice the ball. And so unless you really hit it well, you are going to be caught in the deep. Hit the ball straight and he will still get the sixes,” Gavaskar had told Star Sports during the South Africa series.
Even after his continued failures, the team management has stuck to Pant. When India toured England earlier this year, the in-form opener Ishan Kishan, who had scored 206 runs in the same South Africa series at a strike-rate of 150.36, lost out to Pant.
‘Make Pant open’
Veteran keeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik has suggested that Pant should be given the opportunity to open. “Because we know one thing for sure, his ability to play shots. And when the field is up, he can go gung-ho in the Powerplay so we can give him the opportunity to open. Interestingly, his strike-rate is highest when he opens. He likes the field up, he likes to take on bowlers and put them under pressure. He is second to none when it comes to strokeplay and has baffled a lot of international bowlers of high pedigree. We need to embrace the fact that there will be a few failures from him, but he is a terrific player,” Karthik had told Cricbuzz.
After the T20 World Cup, the leadership combination of Hardik Pandya and VVS Laxman decided to open with Pant in the New Zealand T20Is but Pant managed 6 and 11.
Former India opener and chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth had a suggestion for Pant on his YouTube channel Cheeky Cheeka. “He needs to reinvent himself. He has to do something right – stand and play for a while and then go for it… He’s throwing his wicket away all the time,” Srikkanth said.
Not the best white-ball keeper-batter
Pant averages 32.83 in List A. Kishan averages 36.57, while Samson averages 32.40. But the selectors and team management haven’t given too many chances to the latter two.
“The Rishabh Pant vs Sanju Samson debate is an interesting one for me. There is so much talk about Rishabh Pant, and how he is the future. But in white-ball formats, he hasn’t quite done it. Unbelievable Test player, and he is a shoo-in in Tests as the wicketkeeper-batter, no issue with that. But is he the best white-ball keeper-batter? I am not convinced,” said Doull.
After a fresh selection panel is chosen, will the new selectors continue with Pant as an all-format player and potential captain, or pick him only in red-ball cricket? In a country which boasts about its depth of talent, is it that difficult to find another keeper-batter for white-ball cricket?