Rishabh Pant’s sojourn with the Indian team in limited-overs cricket ended on Monday. After the early sparkle, he had a tepid run with the bat in 2019 and his wicketkeeping came under scrutiny a few times as he was compared with M. S. Dhoni. Promise alone cannot guarantee a place in the national squad, and after failing to shine with the bat in the Indian Premier League this season, Sanju Samson went up the pecking order, turning out to be the preferred gloveman for the selectors in the T20 squad.
Pant has 410 runs from 28 T20Is at 20.50 and a strike-rate of 121.66, figures that contrast with his overall T20 record: 2,892 runs in 105 matches at 32.86 (SR 152.53). For a batsman known to light up a cricket field with his dazzling and unorthodox strokes, and for his ability to turn contests around single-handedly, his run in T20Is appears underwhelming.
To be sure, he has two half-centuries and a handful of unbeaten knocks, and his statistics need to be seen in the context of his batting position (middle order) but he hasn’t stood out as the big hitter as often as he would have been expected to be. Since these innings were few and far between, they remain only glimpses to his potential, with the next step of realising that potential not having been taken.
Rishabh has played fewer matches in ODIs – 16 – and has just a single half-century under his belt, against West Indies in December, 2019. His average – 26.71 – can be viewed as a disappointment considering he had the opportunity to establish himself as a swashbuckling finisher – batting at No. 5 or 6 – in the format. Instead, he specialised in underwhelming cameos.
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What, then, explains the selectors’ fondness for him in this period (2018-20)? It partly stems from outings in England and Australia in Test cricket. Rishabh has a century at The Oval and Sydney. It may be partly why Ricky Ponting, the head coach of Delhi Capitals, a team he plays for in the IPL, speaks highly of him and backs him as a regular member of the Indian team. Moreover, he continues to shine in T20s; last year, he emerged as the seventh-highest run-getter in the IPL, with three half-centuries, including an awe-inspiring innings against Mumbai Indians (78 n.o., 27b). He has some wacky strokes in his repertoire, like the wristy pull to long-leg, and he likes to make use of his unorthodox strokes with fair regularity, like Glenn Maxwell.
The selectors seemed to be inclined to give him a long run, based on this promise. Last year, the then India chief selector, M. S. K. Prasad told Sportstar that the panel was moving on from Dhoni and ready to back Pant.
Expert six hitter
Sanju Samson, meanwhile, was quietly making his case to the selectors with good batting performances. Capable of hitting clean and long sixes frequently, Samson turned the spotlight on him through some whirlwind knocks, such as his 54-ball ton against Sunrisers Hyderabad last year.
This year, Samson turned up the dial further with some superb knocks early on, whereas Rishabh was relatively quiet with the bat. Samson has now built his reputation as an expert six hitter; he has the most sixes under his belt than any other batsman so far in the tourney. Unorthodox strokes may not be his area of expertise, but as long as he can club the ball with regular ease, he may seen to be as special with the bat as Rishabh.
Rishabh is still only 23, and his run in limited-overs cricket could realistically resume very soon, but he is clearly missing something as an India player. Even in Tests, he hasn’t made any contribution of note with the bat since his innings of 159 in Sydney, in January, 2019. When he does get a chance to don the whites, he would be keen to build on that innings and redeem himself.