Has Rishabh Pant done enough to be India's first-choice wicketkeeper at T20 World Cup? | Crickit
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Has Rishabh Pant done enough to be India's first-choice wicketkeeper at T20 World Cup?

Apr 25, 2024 12:28 PM IST

With the selectors set to pick the T20 squad for the World Cup next week, the knock against GT could not have come at a better time for the DC captain.

Rishabh Pant finally produced a Rishabh Pant type of innings in T20 cricket! It was breathtaking and exhilarating as he blasted an undefeated 88 off just 43 deliveries, including 31 runs off the last over of the innings by Mohit Sharma, to power the Capitals to a mammoth total in front of a capacity crowd at home in Delhi.

Rishabh Pant plays a shot during an Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 T20 cricket match between Delhi Capitals and Gujarat Titans, at the Arun Jaitley Stadium(PTI)
Rishabh Pant plays a shot during an Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 T20 cricket match between Delhi Capitals and Gujarat Titans, at the Arun Jaitley Stadium(PTI)

It was Pant’s first high-impact performance in the tournament. With the selectors set to pick the T20 squad for the World Cup next week, the knock could not have come at a better time for the DC captain. The big question then is – has Pant done enough to deserve a place as the first-choice keeper to America and the Caribbean? Should he be above Dinesh Karthik, Sanju Samson, KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan in the pecking order? How has his recent form been in the IPL? Has he proved himself in the format for India?

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Only one outstanding performance in IPL 2024

342 runs in 9 innings at an average of 48.9 and a strike rate of 161.3 is very impressive when seen in absolute terms, but that is the problem with aggregates and averages – they do not reveal the complete picture! 18 of 13 from 74 for 2 in 8 overs against the Punjab Kings was a wasted opportunity. Pant’s sluggish 28 off 26 deliveries from number 4 actually cost the Capitals as they went down by 12 runs in the 186-run chase against the Royals. He failed against MI, getting out for a solitary one in the daunting chase of 235. The victory against the Titans was set up by the bowlers, and he cut a sorry figure with his 35-ball 44 in the 267-run chase against the Sunrisers despite being given a great platform by Tristan Stubbs and Abhishek Porel. Just for perspective, the equation favoured DC when Pant walked out to bat at 135/4 in the 9th over with the current run rate of 15.6, far superseding the required rate of 11.6! At times it felt that Pant did not even try.

Pant’s unbeaten 88 off 43 deliveries is his only outstanding performance in the tournament. He has produced three other decent performances – 51 off 32 in the win against CSK at Visakhapatnam, 41 off 24 against the Super Giants but Prithvi Shaw and Jake Fraser-McGurk had already provided the spark at the top of the order in a relatively modest chase of 168 and a quickfire 55 off 25 from 27 for 3 in a lost cause chasing 273 against the Knight Riders where the top-order collapse of the Capitals meant that there was no pressure on Pant as the fate of the match was sealed within the powerplay.

So, one exceptional performance in nine innings. Is that the level of consistency expected from someone of the calibre of Pant? Let’s examine his recent form in the IPL.

A great 2018 & 2019 but modest returns thereafter

Pant – the destructive IPL batter was at his peak in 2018 and 2019 when he smashed a total of 1172 runs in just 30 innings at an average of 45 and a strike rate of 169. His balls/boundary ratio stood at 4.1.

However, he underwent a dramatic fall in form in the next couple of seasons, not only struggling with piling on the big scores but also failing to produce the cameos. Pant had a strike rate of 114 in 2020 and 128.5 in 2021. He got some of his form back in 2022 but did not register any fifty the whole season.

Not a great T20I batter

It does not take rocket science to analyse that Pant has never been a great T20I batter! In fact, he has been a poor one. Pant has an aggregate of 987 runs in 56 innings at an average of 22.4 and a strike rate of 126.4 with just three fifties. This suggests that neither has he scored substantially nor sparkled with the cameos regularly in the format.

So, why is Pant rated so highly despite his modest returns in the last few seasons of the IPL and less than ordinary numbers for India in the format?

A prodigious talent in Test cricket

Pant’s Test exploits are the stuff of legends. From the unbeaten 89 in the fourth innings’ chase at The Gabba in 2021 to hundreds at the SCG, Edgbaston, The Oval, Cape Town and Ahmedabad – the timing and the quality of his performances have left everyone in the cricketing world stand up and admire his prodigious talent in the format.

It is this potential that the selectors and Indian think-tank have hoped that Pant will replicate in the limited-over formats too but while the wicket-keeper batter has tasted some success in ODIs, he has failed miserably in T20I cricket.

His knock in Delhi against the Titans was again a reminder to the world what he is capable of in the format. It had glimpses of the Pant of 2018 and 2019. And this is the reason why the think-tank is ready to take a punt on Pant.

But at what opportunity cost?

What is the opportunity cost for including Pant?

Dinesh Karthik has a strike rate of 235.9 in the death overs with four high-impact performances this season. Sanju Samson has been the backbone for the Royals in the middle order with three fifties at a strike rate of 152, while KL Rahul – the run machine in the IPL – has produced a couple of match-winning performances with the bat for the Super Giants. And then there is Ishan Kishan, too, whose scoring rate in 2024 is the best ever it has been in a season for the left-hander.

The selectors will be taking a big gamble by picking Pant as the designated wicket-keeper in the T20 WC XI, but if sources are to be believed, that risk has already been taken.

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