Nidahas Trophy 2018

If Rishabh Pant wants to go to the World Cup, he needs to show he’s more than just brawn

Pant can be a part of Virat Kohli’s squad for the World Cup in England if he makes the most of the opportunities he gets now.

India currently enjoys the services of two of the best wicket-keepers in the world – with the underrated Wriddhiman Saha keeping wickets for India in whites and the charismatic Mahendra Singh Dhoni manning the stumps when the team wears blue.

Technically, Saha’s considered the best in the country and that makes him the automatic choice in Tests. And, Saha, at 33, will have at least a few more years in him.

But in the limited overs, after Dhoni retires (most likely after the 2019 World Cup), India might struggle to replace him. Even for the World Cup it isn’t fully certain who’ll be his back up.

With the tournament just a year away, Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant – India’s current keeping reinforcements – won’t get too many opportunities to establish themselves and that is why they must make the most of the few chances they get before the quadrennial event.

With Dhoni absent for the ongoing Nidahas Trophy, both have made the playing XI in both the games played so far. And, India have decided to hand over the wicket-keeping duties to Karthik, picking Pant purely as a batsman. But, as in his previous two T20Is, Pant hasn’t been able to fire.

In the defeat to Sri Lanka in the first T20I, Pant came in at five in the 13th over. He struggled, especially against spin, failed to connect the big shots and ended up making a run-a-ball 23.

On Tuesday, chasing Bangladesh’s meagre total of 139, Pant was sent in at three after skipper Rohit Sharma fell in the fourth over. Sans pressure, with a lot of time left, on a good pitch, Pant could’ve used the opportunity to settle in before unleashing the big shots to guide his team to triumph. A delightful lofted stroke over mid-on off an overpitched Mustafizur delivery, just the second ball he faced, showed promise. But, five balls later, he disappointed, dragging a Rubel Hossain delivery back on to his stumps.

In his first two international outings, he made an unbeaten three-ball five and a 35-ball 38 in a high-scoring contest against West Indies.

Four matches in the time-curtailed T20 format are too less to analyse Pant’s struggles in the international stage. But he’d be better off batting in the top-order despite Tuesday’s failure.

Of his 41 T20 innings, Pant has opened the batting in 14 of them, scoring 515 runs at an average 39.6 at a strike rate of over 180. He’s made five fifties and a hundred (the second-fastest in T20 that came off 32 balls for Delhi against Himachal Pradesh) batting at positions one and two. His collective average and strike-rate in positions three to seven is inferior in comparison.

With Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul in the squad it’s highly unlikely that Pant will get a chance to open in this tournament. But the next time he gets to bat at three after an opener’s quick departure, Pant will do well to make a big score that will serve as a testimonial to his talent.

It’s not that Pant won’t get a chance to become a prominent member of the national side if he fails further in this tournament. He’s just 20 and four T20Is old in international cricket. Opportunities might knock his door more than once. But if he makes the ones he’s getting now count, he’ll probably get to be a part of Virat Kohli’s squad for the World Cup in England next year.

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