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Why India should go All-In on Rishabh Pant

Author: Aditya Verma

Fearless or irresponsible? Innovative or stupid? Unorthodox or funny? People maybe divided over Pant regarding his approach and batting style but he has been producing positive results more often than others in the Indian line-up full of textbook batters. With around 100 outings in International arena, Pant has given close to 20 high-impact performances which is impressively frequent given he bats outside the Top3 batting positions.

Gift to the the Supreme Format

A lot of credit has to go to Virat Kohli for backing this raw talent with the bat, who was ordinary with the gloves at the time of his Test debut. Many cricket pundits doubted his capability against the red ball when he was given the Test cap (owing to his scintillating IPL season that year) after Karthik’s horrific run of 0, 20, 1, and 0 in the first 2 Tests of England tour in 2018.

After 5 back-to-back failures amid a series defeat, Pant cashed in on what could have potentially been his last outing in whites. Becoming the first Indian wicketkeeper to smash a Test ton in England, he built a 204-run partnership for the 6th wicket with KL Rahul in a futile yet impressionable chase. This was the only time India crossed 300 in a loss on that forgettable tour.

In an era dominated by the bowling conditions of the host country, batting hasn’t been easier in the longest format. Since 2017, the overall batting average has been 27.7 compared to 32.5 in the period of 2010-2014. Batting Average has gone down on a downward slope since 2015 and it isn’t a bad strategy to play as many strokes as possible in what’s supposed to be a short stay on the crease.

Given how low scoring games and 4-day finishes are the new normal, a quick paced 30-35 is only going to add to the value of the team unlike games where all 3 results are possible. Pujara, who has faced 100+ balls 20 times since Pant’s debut, has 4 centuries till date while Pant has 4 tons from only 8 such innings. In another era, Pujara’s resistance would have made a much greater impact on the outcome of the result but now, especially after the Gabba heist, it’s Rishabh Pant who is indispensable due to his maverick approach to Test cricket.

Rishabh as a keeper-batsman has already achieved so much overseas that it’s at par with many all-time greats from subcontinent who seldom did well especially in SENA countries. No other Asian wicketkeeper has 3 centuries in those countries and he is just 24!

White-Ball Surge

Contrary to the expectations from a batsman with heavy bat swing, unconventional batting technique and mercurial approach, Pant peaked later than expected in the shorter formats. His T20I career has been surprisingly below par and very similar to another unorthodox batter with jersey number #17 -AB de Villiers. Although there is enough time for Pant to better the numbers like he has done in ODI format.

Among those who played all their first 19 innings outside Top3 batting positions in ODIs, only Kevin Pietersen, Mike Hussey and Mohammad Yousuf scored more runs than Pant. He has 3 big fifties in his last 4 ODIs and looks like a sure-starter in the upcoming World Cups comfortably.

India plays way too many anchors to take on a team like England. Needs at least one of Pant, Samson or Shaw who don’t put a price on their wicket and play primarily as ambassadors of acceleration. Among the 3 mentioned, Pant has to be the safest bet who has delivered in Tests and IPL both. That is as versatile as it gets.

Reigns to Rishabh

For long term, KL Rahul looks to be the front-runner in the current scheme of things regarding Indian captaincy but the possibility of leadership taking a toll on his batting and mindset cannot be completely discarded. Time and again in IPL and now in ODIs in South Africa, Rahul tends to go slower than his usual strike rate unless PBKS/India are playing for run-rate. He has let himself go only in games where there has been minimum responsibility and looked quite invincible. In IPL, his SR goes up from 133 as captain to 138 when he is not in-charge. His captaincy record is not that great either but perhaps Punjab Kings is not right team and one ODI series is not the right sample size to draw any conclusions.

Pant, on the other hand, has done exceedingly well in his stint as Delhi Capitals skipper. His win% of 62.5 is highest among those who led in 10 or more games. Pant’s strike rate also dropped down while leading last season but that had a lot to do with sluggish UAE pitches and very little to do with the burden of captaincy.

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Everything about Pant has been spectacular so far. Be it his success or his failures, making him a soft target to go after in losses. The ‘frivolous’ shot off the first ball in the last ODI earned him a golden duck and tons of criticism but that is how it is with wild cards like him or Sehwag or Shaw-there is no middle ground. No one remembers or complains about his first delivery of his Gabba knock where he poked at an away-moving ball because that inning ended very differently. Players like these should be backed to play nothing but their natural game.

Rishabh the captain would probably give India a free-flowing Rahul at the top while securing Pant’s spot as a hitter in the process. Imagine the massacre with an even more secure Rishabh Pant.
As for captaincy, there is no harm in trying out a young wicketkeeper at his prime. A move which has worked wonders for Indian cricket in the past.