Over the last few years, the slot of wicketkeeper in the Indian team has come with an additional clause - the candidate has to be a solid batter, too.
Though exactly, not a new concept - even Rahul Dravid had to double up a stumper-batter in their playing days to keep the combination right - the competition has been immense for that coveted spot.
India went into the T20 World Cup in Australia last year with three wicketkeeper-batters in its ranks - Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik and KL Rahul - keeping the game’s ever-evolving nature in mind.
And soon after, in December and January, Rahul kept the stumps for six ODIs - three against Bangladesh and three against Sri Lanka - while Ishan Kishan was the preferred choice for the series against New Zealand, in the absence of Rahul, who had taken a break due to personal commitments.
Now, with Pant likely to be out of action till next year and Karthik running out of favour, the competition revolves around Rahul and Ishan. Despite struggling to convert the starts and losing his spot from the Test squad for the last two fixtures against Australia, Rahul had scores of 73, 14 and 8 in Bangladesh, while putting up 39, 64 and 7 against Sri Lanka, at No.5. On the other hand, Ishan scored 5, 8, 17 in three ODIs against New Zealand.
And ahead of the three-match ODI series against Australia, which begins in Mumbai on Friday, the focus is once again on the two for that one coveted spot, with indications that Rahul could once again be the preferred choice.
Though the team management did not clear the air, the fielding coach T. Dilip heaped praises on Rahul. “We all know that KL Rahul is a wonderful player. He has a proven record. Even in ODIs, in the middle-order, he has proven enough as a batter. As a wicketkeeper, he gets a lot of balance into the team,” Dilip said on Wednesday.
“Since he is not someone who has picked the gloves just now - he has been doing that since a younger age - he adds a lot of things. Not that difficult to work on his wicketkeeping, apart from refining a few aspects,” Dilip said.
Since 2019, Rahul has stepped up in the dual role. “If you look at the last T20 World Cup, we had three wicketkeepers who played. That’s been a trend. If you see all the wicketkeeper-batters that are coming up in the lines, they have been fantastic batters too. That adds to the balance (of the team),” Dilip said.
“As a fielding coach, my responsibility is not only to work on their wicketkeeping skills, but also work on their fielding skills, so that whatever role the team requires according to the combination on that particular day, they are well equipped for that…”
With Rohit Sharma missing out on the opening ODI in Mumbai due to family commitments, Hardik Pandya will lead the team. “He (Hardik)’s the captain now officially. But he has been in our leadership group for all these matches and he’s proven in T20s what he can bring on table as a captain,” Dilip said.
“Even if Rohit is the captain, he is part of our leadership group, he adds a lot of value to the team, not only you, we all are looking forward to him. He’s well-equipped to do it…”
After retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1, India will be hoping to make it count in the three-match ODIs as well. And for both Ishan and an under-fire Rahul, this is an opportunity to step up and make the most of the opportunities that come their way.