When young and dynamic wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant led India to a historic Test victory against the Aussies at the Gabba in Brisbane, he was hailed as the next big thing in Indian cricket. There was every reason to do so. Still relatively new to international cricket, Pant batted with incredible maturity under pressure to lead Team India to glory. Although he played his naturally attacking game, his choice of strokes was outstanding, as well as his selection of bowlers to go after. In the previous Test in Sydney as well, it was Pant’s counter-attack that gave the visitors the belief that they could pull off a draw, which they did in epic style.
A year and a half later, the aggressive southpaw was expected to become even more dangerous, especially in the limited-overs format. Pant has played the odd brilliant knock since the Gabba epic, but most of them have come in Test matches. He scored a hundred on a spinning turf in Ahmedabad and blasted a terrific ton earlier this year in Cape Town. Despite his inconsistency, Pant remains the front-runner to be Team India’s keeper-batter at the T20 World Cup in Australia later in the year. That might change, though, if he has a poor series against South Africa at home.
The risk factor with Pant
Now, one cannot be harsh on Pant over his style of play. There is only one way he knows to bat. He will succeed in the same manner and fail in the same vein. Having said that, the Indian selectors will definitely weigh the success vs failure ratio of the 24-year-old since they have a big enough sample size to assess his performances, especially in the shorter formats. If we look at his white-ball numbers for India starting January 1, 2021, the southpaw has an impressive record in ODIs – 341 runs in eight matches at an average of 42.62. However, the same cannot be said about his T20I stats. In 15 games, he has 273 runs with a best of 52*. Remember, Pant has been batting in the Top 4 in most of these matches.
One of the key reasons the Indian selectors did not rest Pant for the South Africa T20Is could have been because of his underwhelming showing in IPL 2022. Leading the Delhi Capitals (DC), the left-hander scored 340 runs in 14 matches at an average of 30.91. While he had an expectedly good strike rate of 151.79, the most disappointing aspect of his game was that he did not get a single fifty. His highest score in IPL 2022 was 44. He looked good a number of times but then threw his wicket away. The Indian think tank will thus be keenly observing Pant’s batting efforts in the series against the Proteas. They, of course, wouldn’t be expecting too much change in his natural style of play. But his shot selection and consistency will be under the scanner.
The DK equation
A lot has changed for Pant since the start of IPL 2022. Before that, he was the top contender to be Team India’s keeper-batter at the T20 World Cup in Australia. He still is, but veteran Dinesh Karthik’s entry into the picture adds an interesting dimension to the fight for the keeper-batter position. The Tamil Nadu veteran, who hasn’t played for the country since 2019, has been handed a national comeback in the wake of his stellar performance for the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Batting as the designated finisher for the franchise, DK clobbered 330 runs in 16 matches at an average of 55 and a stupendous strike rate of 183.33. His big hitting at the death was of a totally different level.
Although 37, Karthik proved that age is just a number. He can give serious competition to the much younger Pant when it comes to the keeper-batter slot for the T20 World Cup later in the year. In case, DK makes a good comeback into the Indian team, and Pant continues to struggle, the selectors will have a tough call to make going ahead.