Why Rishabh Pant must play
Updated: Jun 29, 2019
The Men in Blue’s chances at The World Cup hugely rest with addressing this problem and why Pant forms a major part of that solution.
The injury to Shikhar Dhawan could have been disastrous to Team India’s chances at The World Cup but it instead brought with it a sliver lining. The supremely gifted young wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant was brought in as cover for the injured opener. However, considering how vital Dhawan was to The Men in Blue’s chances at the tournament –after all he had been the highest run-getter in The Champions Trophy of 2013 & 2017 while also being India’s highest run scorer at the 2015 World Cup and started well here too with a century against Australia - the team waited on their star opener’s recovery. Only once he was ruled out of the tournament did Pant finally come into the equation.
The selectors seemed to have missed a trick when the wicket-keeper wasn’t part of the original 15-member contingent to The World Cup. But now with Dhawan out, they have a chance to rectify that mistake. Having got him into the squad of 15, the team cannot afford to have a player of his ability waiting on the sidelines, carrying drinks. He needs to be drafted straight into the playing XI, or else there’s no point of having him around. India already have a reserve wicket-keeper batsman in Dinesh Karthik. Granted his ODI record isn’t great, at an average of 23.25 with a highest score of 36 doesn’t really inspire confidence. But we do have to remember that his one-day career is just 4 matches old and we can hardly read much into it. What we do know however is that he’s an explosive talent, capable of winning matches on his own. He served notice of that enormous talent on the test tours Down Under and in England last year. While his century at The Oval was in a dead rubber and on a flat track, it was very impressive nonetheless coming in the youngster’s first Test series. He then scored a remarkable century in the drawn Sydney Test to help India secure their first series win in Australia. He had also been on fire in this year’s IPL for Delhi Capitals, just a couple of months back.
India’s near escape against Afghanistan once again highlighted a chink in their armour that needs to be addressed if they hope to contend for the title, that chink being their shaky middle order. They literally got out of jail in a last gasp effort, thanks to the brilliance of their bowling unit comprising Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Hardik Pandya and hat trick hero Mohammad Shami. Shami's feat in fact made him the second Indian and first bowler at the ongoing World Cup to take a hat trick.
Their underwhelming performance can undeniably be attributed to their fragile and insecure middle order. Mahendra Singh Dhoni isn’t the force he once was, while Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadav at this level just don’t seem to cut it. Jadav scored a half-century in the Afghanistan match while Dhoni and Shankar have both scored useful runs in prior matches without making huge contributions. Shankar, Jadav and Dinesh Karthik all deserve their spots in the team, hard earned as they were through consistent performances on the domestic circuit and on the international stage, but they don’t exactly scream out ‘match winners’. They haven't cost India a match yet but they need to address this weakness before it does. 'Don't fix what's not broken' shouldn't be their attitude here, rather 'A stitch in time saves nine' should be. It could save them a world of pain in the coming matches. In fact Vijay Shankar himself came in ahead of the highly consistent and previous incumbent at no.4 Ambati Rayadu, as he offered a ‘3 dimensional package’ (all rounder) compared to the more technically sound Andhra batsman. So now if Pant offers an even more enticing package than Shankar or the rest, why shouldn’t he come into the playing eleven, immediately?
While it is the responsibility of the respective cricket boards and team managements to provide players with the opportunities they deserve and preserve the sanctity of the system, some exceptions need to be made in certain instances, such as winning a world cup. When the aim is something as monumental as winning the biggest prize in the game, then the boards and managements owe it to their respective nations, to assemble the best squad they possibly can, who have the best chance of lifting the trophy. Players with explosive talent, capable of winning matches on their own, individuals who possess that all elusive X-factor, these are the men who have to be brought in to achieve that objective. That’s why England pulled out all the stops to ensure Jofra Archer was part of their World Cup squad, why Pakistan brought back Mohammad Amir for the tournament, despite being woefully out of form for well over 2 years and why South Africa so desperately needed the talents of their retired genius AB de Villiers (which they chose not to employ and it cost them). Pant offers that same package, and along with Hardik Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav, presents India with a triumvirate of X-factor players.
Pant by no means is a finished product. His glove work needs drastic improvement but he offers so much with the bat that he has to be included in the team on that basis alone. He also needs to come into the team now before India’s shaky middle order eventually does become a burning issue. We are almost at the business end of the tournament and with only a handful of matches to go for India, they need to draft him in quickly so as to help him acclimatize to the conditions and the challenges prevalent at a World Cup.
If India are to go deep into the tournament then their ideal XI for the rest of the event needs to read as follows:
1. Rohit Sharma
2. K.L. Rahul
3. Virat Kohli (c)
4. M.S. Dhoni (wk)
5. Rishabh Pant
6. Ravindra Jadeja
7. Hardik Pandya
8. Kuldeep Yadav
9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar/ Navdeep Saini
10. Yuzvendra Chahal/ Mohammad Shami
11. Jasprit Bumrah
This combination gives India the perfect balance that they so desperately need. M.S. Dhoni retains his place simply because there isn’t a better wicket-keeper around, but bats higher because of his penchant for time to build his innings. Pant comes in place of Vijay Shankar as he undoubtedly has more batting talent and slots in at no.5. If Dhoni gets injured, then only does Karthik come in as a specialist keeper. Ravindra Jadeja takes the place of Kedar Jadav in the XI as he offers much more than the latter does as a quality all-rounder. While both are equally competent with the bat, Jadeja trumps the diminutive batsman in the other two disciplines. He is a genuine wicket taker along with being a gun fielder. This gives skipper Kohli six high quality bowlers in every match with no part timers. That’s pure gold any captain would love to have. The batting order can also be re-jigged further with Jadeja coming in at no. 5 (as he takes longer to get started as well) and Pant dropping down to Jadeja's position or even coming in after Pandya. Pant and then Pandya can also play the finishers giving the innings the much needed impetus at the end. Bhuvneshwar Kumar should slot right back in once fit, but with Mohammad Shami in red-hot form, India face a problem of plenty. Perhaps if the ball swings more, Bhuvi gets the nod, if it seams more then Shami comes in. And if the conditions are ideal for both swing and seam, then both of them can be played at the expense of either of the wrist spinners spinners Chahal or Kuldeep, depending on the opposition and current form. In the event that Bhuvneshwar is ruled out of the tournament, then Navdeep Saini – originally a standby player - who has since joined the team as a net bowler, could find a place, if a third pace bowling option is required. The Delhi lad has shown impressive pace this year when he turned out for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.
This has to be the thought process of the Indian think tank going into the last few matches before the knockout games. It might seem a bit unfair that there’s no room for Vijay, Karthik and Jadav (if things stand as they are), but they will get their chances once the tournament is over. They haven’t done anything wrong, but hard calls need to be made in the best interest of the side. After-all, there is a World Cup at stake, so India need to put their best possible side on the park, capable of bringing the title home, and in the process becoming three time World Champions!