How things fell in place for Rishabh Pant to make his comeback in T20 World Cup 2024 squad

The left-handed wicketkeeper has scored 398 runs in 11 innings for DC this year, striking at 158.56, while averaging 44.22, showing signs of his renowned range-hitting despite missing nearly 15 months of cricket.

Published : Apr 30, 2024 21:23 IST , Chennai - 5 MINS READ

Delhi Capitals’ captain Rishabh Pant in action during the Indian Premier League cricket match between Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders in Kolkata.
Delhi Capitals’ captain Rishabh Pant in action during the Indian Premier League cricket match between Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders in Kolkata. | Photo Credit: AP

Delhi Capitals’ captain Rishabh Pant in action during the Indian Premier League cricket match between Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders in Kolkata. | Photo Credit: AP

It didn’t feel like Rishabh Pant missed nearly 15 months of cricket. His typical off-balance sixes, one-handed swats charging down the track, or reverse scoops off fast bowlers haven’t lost their charm. 

In the recent Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 match against Gujarat Titans, during his 43-ball 88, Pant displayed the range hitting he was always known for before he got injured in a life-threatening car crash in December 2022 near Roorkee. 

Within 453 days, Pant not only learned to walk again, but became fit enough to come back into competitive cricket. 

His return also came at a crucial time for Indian cricket, with T20 World Cup selection looming. Since the Indian team last played a T20I in January 2024, performances in IPL played a significant role to finalise the squad for the marquee event set to be held in June in USA and the West Indies.

After scoring 398 runs in 11 innings striking at 158.56, while averaging 44.22, the left-handed wicketkeeper batter did make it easy for the selectors to get him into India’s 15-member squad for the World Cup. 

“He has already proved that he is a matchwinner for India. When he’s fit, no keeper is better than him,” opined Davendra Sharma, Pant’s childhood coach from Sonnet Club days. 

“He’s a left-handed batter who can bat anywhere from 1-11 (batting position). That’s what makes him different, his versatility,” Davendra said. 

Pant, for most of his senior career - India and IPL - has batted at number four and five, playing a majority of his knocks in the middle overs (7-14). It is the phase where India has tried to improve its scoring rate - from 136.16 in 2021-22 to 144.20 post 2023. 

RELATED: India’s T20 World Cup squad analysis — why Chahal, Dube made the cut?

Earlier, Pant had a strike rate of 115.70 playing for India; and 134.40 in the rest of the T20s including IPL during this phase. However, in this season for Delhi Capitals (DC), he has increased his intent which resulted in an improved strike rate of 138.20 and an average of 57.75. 

“He has become more sensible,” KP Bhaskar, Delhi’s former Ranji Trophy coach, reckoned. 

IPL 2024 saw him taking control of situations when the team was in trouble. His playing through the overs and taking the team to a better position while keeping the intent going is something India will want during the World Cup as well. 

A left-hander to play through the middle overs is a role that the Rohit Sharma-led side has constantly tried to fill. Tilak Varma (6), Shivam Dube (4) and Rinku Singh (6) all played at number four and five in the 26 matches India has played since 2023. 

With Pant bringing in an additional skill set of wicketkeeper, it helps India accommodate left-handed Yashasvi Jaiswal in the opening slot instead of Ishan Kishan, who has played the most T20Is (11) since 2023 as designated wicketkeeper.

Bhaskar, who was Delhi’s coach when Pant scored 308 against Maharashtra in the 2016-17 season, opines that he would be much better as an opener. “If I were the captain, I would play him as an opener since Pant is an impact player and would probably be at his best when he opens the innings.” 

India has tried Pant as an opener in the past - in 2022 - where he scored 71 runs at a strike rate of 136.53. And if India does decide to slot in the likes of Shivam Dube in the middle order, the option of Pant as an opener will continue to be available. 

“He’s a street-smart cricketer. He has all those improvisation shots and he excels in those - the switch hits and the upper cuts. He has a range of shots - somewhat like a 360 [degree] player like Suryakumar Yadav. It would be better if he capitalises in the first six overs,” Bhaskar said. 

Davendra, who described Pant as a natural six-hitter, too voiced a similar opinion, saying he could hit the same delivery to both leg and off side. “He has a lot of time to play his shots.” 

However, with India’s top order, which includes Rohit Sharma, Yashasvi Jaiswal, and Virat Kohli, set in stone, Pant was always slated to play in the middle order. 

Another thing that went in favour of Pant’s selection is how the rest of the wicketkeepers lot went this season. While KL Rahul (363 runs) was in fine form, all his knocks came while batting in the top order. 

Ishan, the only other left-handed keeper, scored 212 runs also batting as an opener. Jitesh Sharma, who played for India in the middle order in the last 12 months, too is in the middle of an underwhelming season - 128 runs at a strike rate of 125.49 while averaging 16 in eight innings. 

India’s pattern of backing experienced and established players, especially in ICC tournaments, also made Pant favourite amongst selectors. And eventually all signs came true for the southpaw’s international comeback and what better than in a World Cup.

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