“While Pant may or may not make the cut for the World Cup, he must continue to look for ways to improve as a wicketkeeper, especially in the longest format”
Ever since Rishabh Pant made his debut at Trent Bridge earlier this year, he has been earmarked as one for the future and has clearly been assured by the team management that he will be given a long rope in the side. When it comes to the limited-overs, he has MS Dhoni is still very much around and is an integral part of the ICC World Cup 2019. Hence, Dhoni’s selection ahead of Pant in the limited-overs series in Australia and New Zealand comes as little surprise. With more matches under his belt, Pant is becoming a better cricketer, but still has a long way to go. His primary role is that of a wicketkeeper but is also expected to contribute more with the bat than he has. What is disheartening to see is the fact that he does not seem to put a price on his wicket – something the Australian tail have done much better than him this time.
At 21, Pant still has a lot of time to hone his skills and become a better player. His is still a work in progress when it comes to one-dayers and has a reputation of being a hard-hitter when it comes to the shortest format. Test cricket as he would have learnt in his short career is a completely different challenge. You can score a 48-ball century in the Ranji Trophy or even score a triple century without breaking much sweat. But when you compete against some of the best bowlers in the world, you will not just have to rely on your own skill sets, but be willing to learn on the go as well. Pant, who bats at 7, is more or less a walking wicket, He might get you those quickfire 30s and 40s, but they are not going to be of much significance.
While Pant has been making news for his shenanigans behind the wickets for his sledges, his wicketkeeping too has done a bit of talking. He has already surpassed the likes of MS Dhoni and has drawn level with Syed Kirmani when it comes to having most dismissals in a Test series. He has another Test in to even break the record, but that perhaps has a lot to do with how well the Indian bowlers, especially the fast bowlers have bowled this year, than Pant’s skills.
Pant found it difficult in seaming conditions in England and often showed a lack of footwork behind the wickets, which made it extremely difficult for him to grab on to balls that were fired on the leg side. He conceded 30 byes at Southampton and a whopping 40 byes at The Oval – overall conceding a total of 76 byes in the three Tests he played in England. To be fair, the entire blame cannot be put on Pant. Some of the responsibilities have to taken by the fast bowlers for their wayward bowling. But there is no denying that Pant was not what one expects from their wicketkeeper, especially after he took over the gloves from Dinesh Karthik after the first couple of Tests.
Back to familiar conditions, India took on West Indies in a 2-Test series. India went in with three spinners and it is never easy to keep when you have the quality of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, along with the wrist spin of Kuldeep Yadav bowling at you all day. He was bombarded with around 180 overs of spin. He conceded 16 byes in the first innings at Rajkot, but turned it around in the next three innings, conceding just 10 more. He scored a couple of 90s as well and was in a good frame of mind leading up to the Australia tour.
It is also not just about conceding the byes. It is also about pouching on to catches, especially against the spinners. He has already dropped a couple of them in the MCG Test alone, but also hung on to a good one off Jadeja’s bowling to dismiss Tim Paine in the same game. It has been observed that he does not get up from a crouched position according to the bounce of the ball but instead, gets up much quicker, which does not enable him to judge the ball precisely. These are little things, but when not done right, it could end costing the team valuable runs/wickets.
Compared to the previous two permanent wicketkeepers India had had – Wriddhiman Saha and MS Dhoni – Pant can be proud of his achievements so far. Dhoni in his first 16 innings had 30 dismissals and Saha had 15, compared to Pant’s 41. However, Dhoni and Saha were more technically sound wicketkeepers compared to Pant and were irreplaceable once they made their way into the side. With Saha still out injured and the likes of Karthik and Parthiv Patel on the fringes, Pant’s place in the test side is not completely secure. He has made a promising start but needs to kick on.
After the fourth Test at SCG, the focus will completely shift on limited-overs, with the World Cup around the corner. While Pant may or may not make the cut for the World Cup, he must continue to look for ways to improve as a wicketkeeper, especially in the longest format.