It’s been a good couple of days for young Rishabh Pant. His rapid rise as a Test cricketer has resulted in a Category A contract from the BCCI (Rs 5 crore retainer, second only to the elite level).
But more importantly, the confirmation that Mahendra Singh Dhoni would be rested for the last two One-Day Internationals against Australia meant that he will get some much-needed game time.
And in Mohali, Pant will strive to seal a slot in the World Cup squad even as India fret about their top-order woes ahead of the fourth ODI against Australia on Sunday.
Providing opportunities to all Cup hopefuls was clearly on Virat Kohli’s mind despite the setback in Ranchi, and the team management is expected to ring in a few changes in the playing XI in the remaining two matches of the series.
“We will have a few changes in the next couple of games but the idea is to tell the boys to put in match-winning performances and the boys will be looking to be in top form before the flight to England,” Kohli said after the third ODI.
Dhoni might well have played his last international game in Ranchi and now Pant gets a chance to book his boarding pass for the London-bound flight. In earlier ODIs, Pant had played purely as batsman but with Dhoni being rested, Pant will get a chance to don the big gloves.
While his ODI career has been stop-start so far, there is no doubt that he is seen as the long-term replacement for Dhoni. In the short term, however, it remains to be seen if he can sneak a spot in the middle order as a proper batsman. Given India’s struggles in finding the right combination, the door is still open for Pant.
Chance for Bhuvneshwar Kumar
The Indian playing XI will also likely have Bhuvneshwar Kumar on Sunday as he replaces Mohammed Shami, who was hit on the leg in his follow through during the third match. Shami completed his spell but since he looks all but certain to share the new ball with Jasprit Bumrah in England, it is natural to give him precautionary rest.
For Kumar, though, this is a chance to show he is still a force to reckon with, especially offering more as a batsman lower down the order and with his ability to take wickets at both ends of the innings.
What will keep the Indian team worried is the batting form of the top-order, save skipper Kohli, who has been miles above everyone in his team.
Kohli has 283 runs in three games with two hundreds and the next best in the Indian team is Kedar Jadhav with 118 runs.
Rohit Sharma is undergoing a rare slump in ODIs, having scored only 51 runs in three innings. Even worse is Ambati Rayudu’s performance at No 4 with aggregate of 33 runs in three games.
Shikhar Dhawan’s struggles are well-documented and he has scored only 22 runs in three games.
Dhawan and Rayudu’s form should be a cause of concern even though both seem, at this point, to be certainties as far as place in the World Cup squad is concerned.
There are certain problems in both Dhawan and Rayudu’s games but they won’t get adequate time to correct those follies with just two games to be played in five days and the IPL to follow soon.
India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar however considers that the shortest of gaps between two games Friday and Sunday to be a blessing in disguise.
“At times, actually it’s good that there is a very small turnaround between matches because if there are too many gaps, then players have that much more time to think. The best for any player is to get back into action and give it another shot. In fact I’m very pleased that the next game is starting Sunday,” Bangar said.
While Kohli is not a great advocate of wholesale changes, KL Rahul could get a look-in but it is not clear who would he replace – Dhawan or Rayudu. India will be worried about Aussie leg-spinner Adam Zampa, who despite conceding lot of runs, has managed to get Kohli and Dhoni on multiple occasions.
“That’s the sign of a good player. You’re not at your best, not having your best day and still taking those important wickets. Batsmen pride themselves on the same thing - when you don’t feel like you are hitting the ball well, you try to get runs on those days,” Usman Khawaja said.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rishabh Pant (wk).
Australia: Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Jhye Richardson, Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Alex Carey, Nathan Lyon, Jason Behrendorff.
Match Starts: 1:30 pm.