The rained-off opener of the three-match T20 series at Dharamshala means India and South Africa have one opportunity less to test their new recruits.
Besides the lesser-known names in-waiting in both dugouts to come good this week at Mohali and Bangalore, one man eager to change the current narrative is Rishabh Pant. Rebuked by coach Ravi Shastri for his “rash stroke selection” in crunch situations, the 21-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman is facing some serious reality check in white-ball cricket. Pant realises that depending on the result of the shot he attempts, opinions get reinforced.
One among the few playing all three formats for the country, Pant is yet to firm up his place. Since Pant made an impression during the Indian Premier League before making it to the Indian dressing room, he is considered most suited for the 20-over game.
However, going beyond reputation, Pant’s statistics in the shortest format tell a story of inconsistency. In 17 innings, Pant has 10 single-digit scores. Pant’s highest of 65 not out at Providence, in his previous outing in the Caribbean, came after a dismal sequence of 3, 1 (against Australia), 0 and 4 (against the West Indies). Clearly, Pant has not done enough to justify the faith of the team’s think-tank.
When playing a match-winning role, any stroke-maker looks good. Pant is no different. But sometimes, when he gets it wrong and departs in trying to slog the first ball he faces, criticism is equally quick to follow.
No wonder, Shastri expressed his displeasure recently by pointing out Pant’s first-ball dismissal in the ODI at Trinidad last month, to illustrate the point. Indeed, Pant’s inconsistency was not missed by the team even in the euphoria that follows his rare, rampaging knocks.
Much like Virender Sehwag at the start of his international career around two decades ago, Pant, too, has delighted and disappointed his fans in almost equal measure. Many experts feel, given the youngster’s mindset and free-stroking approach to the challenges of modern-day cricket, no serious corrections are needed. When the going is good, Pant becomes the best advertisement of batsmanship in white-ball cricket. But his inconsistency has the potential to seriously hurt the team.
For the record, Pant has an average of 44.35 in Tests, 22.90 in ODIs and just 21.57 in T20s.
The sustained faith of the National selectors on Pant, in all three formats, seems to have almost slammed the door on the future of the more experienced duo of Wriddhiman Saha in Tests and Dinesh Karthik in ODIs.
No one questions Saha’s superior wicketkeeping skills and Karthik’s steady head in crunch situations. Pant surely needs time to mature and that’s the reason behind selectors’ persistence. But, in the process, can they appear to be unfair to the claims of Saha and Karthik?
Even in T20 or ODIs, many feel Pant stands to gain much from the calming presence of M. S. Dhoni, if available.
For now, Pant is all by himself. Before it’s too late, he has to find ways of contributing more to the team, and not playing to the galleries.
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