In search of impact, Rishabh Pant punts on intent

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Express News Service

CHENNAI:  In early 2020, Rishabh Pant was not a certainty in the Indian T20I XI. Former India captain MS Dhoni occupied the spot as long as he was playing, and at one point, KL Rahul became the make-shift wicketkeeper, which gave them an option of playing an extra all-rounder. It continued in the New Zealand tour in 2020 as well, with Pant warming the bench. 

The reason that was generally floated around for Pant not being a regular was that his international record wasn’t great. But up until the Sri Lanka series in January 2020, the southpaw had not been given a long rope. In the 59 T20I India had played between Pant’s debut and December 31, 2020, he got to play in just 28 games, in which he averaged 20.50 at a strike rate of 121.66. And that was at a time when he was taking apart bowlers for fun in the Indian Premier League — 1538 runs in three seasons at 168 SR.

But it all changed since the historic Test series win in Australia. Since then, the wicketkeeper-batter has been a regular part of the playing XI across formats, unless rested or injured. His stature grew leaps and bounds as the world saw what the freakish batting talent could accomplish in the longest format. 
So much so that he was named deputy to Rohit Sharma for the home series against West Indies in January 2022. And when Rahul got injured ahead of the ongoing South Africa series, the responsibility fell on the hands of Pant. 

Now, it is too soon to jump the gun with regards to his captaincy — although he also led Delhi Capitals for a couple of seasons now in the IPL — especially while working under a strong personality like Rahul Dravid (with India), and former Australian captain Ricky Ponting (in the IPL). That said, what has come under scrutiny now is his performances with the bat.

Since the home series against England in 2022, Pant has made 313 runs in 15 innings at a strike rate of 132.06, while batting in the middle-order. While it might be too hard to read into the average, given where he bats, it is hard not to notice how he hasn’t been able to replicate the impactful short bursts too at the international stage — in IPL 2022, he struck 340 runs at 151.79 SR. For some reason, he hasn’t been able to provide the same kind of impact he has had in Tests consistently in T20Is.

Make no mistake, there is no question regarding the intent or talent. For one thing, without the burden of the seniors, who often play the anchor role in the shortest format, this Indian side has shown intent with the bat, irrespective of the situation or the results. And when it comes to Pant, that little cameo he played in Delhi, smashing 29 runs off 16 balls, had some ridiculous ball-striking. 

However, with Rahul and Dinesh Karthik in the mix, he might have to do it more regularly. India, or any other team for that matter, could not go into a World Cup with three wicketkeeping options in the playing XI, especially if all three aren’t at their best potential with the bat. There has been criticism in the way Pant got out when he did, not just in Cuttack, but also in Visakhapatnam. And these criticisms would only get stronger when the results aren’t going India’s way, especially with him leading the team.

India vs South Africa, fourth T20I, Live on Star Sports, 7 PM

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