India vs West Indies: Rishabh Pant looking to punch his weight
For the fourth time in as many games in four months, India and West Indies go into a One-day International (ODI) with the possibility of rain ruining a part or all of it. West Indies skipper Kieron Pollard was met by a short drizzle but they did nets in the afternoon gloom because the rain held. India skipped training because a wet Friday evening yielded to Saturday morning showers.
The entire park at the MA Chidambaram Stadium is not covered like it is at Eden Gardens but the layers protecting the square wasn’t peeled off till after sunset, the ground staff tending to it under lights.
Recalibrated since they last met in the West Indies—India winning two games on the Duckworth Lewis method after the first was washed out—the teams will look to the week beginning Sunday to see how they stack up in the 50-over format.
The injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been replaced by Shardul Thakur but headlining the posers India are grappling with is what do you do with the potential called Rishabh Pant.
Still looking for his first ODI half-century—his highest of 48 came against Bangladesh in the World Cup—Pant goes into the first game with scores of 20, 0, 4, 19, 27, DNB, 6, 18, 33 not out and 0 in the last 10 games of international white-ball cricket.
Not numbers that do justice to the reputation of a batsman who has one IPL and two Test hundreds. Vikram Rathour, India’s batting coach, was asked whether the team management is considering giving Pant a break and getting KL Rahul to keep wicket.
To the first question, Rathour said the time hasn’t come for Pant to reset his game away from international cricket, but acknowledged the second as an option.
“The reason we keep discussing him is that he has immense ability. Everybody believes he can be the X-factor in any team. He has been working hard on his game, on his fitness. All of us believe once he starts coming good, he can be a match winner,” said Rathour here on Saturday.
Whether the middle-order is India’s soft underbelly is also something that can get tested in the series.
“That is a difficult problem to address. The top order is getting runs and I don’t think there is anything you can do to address that. We have enough depth now to keep batting throughout the innings with a lot of intent,” said the former India opening batsman.
The last time India played an ODI here—in September 2017—Kedar Jadhav was crucial to the middle-order. On Sunday, Shivam Dube’s all-round skills could be preferred to his. The last ODI here, against Australia, was also where Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal shared five wickets and ‘Kul-Cha’ became the team’s staple. Both are in the squad and it will have to be seen whether they are asked to recreate their magic on a pitch Rathour said looks on the slower side, one on which no team crossed 180 in the last five IPL games of 2019.
Though India have come here after the top-order’s pyrotechnics in the last T20, batting first is an area that could do with some fine-tuning.
“The way we batted in the last game was one big tick in the box. Looking forward to maintaining that and whenever the opportunity comes, we will be looking to batting first and posting big scores,” said Rathour. This, despite the team batting first winning only 33.3% of the games here in the past decade, per cricmetric.com.
West Indies have a new captain in Pollard, who is one of the changes from the squad that played ODIs against India in August. Chris Gayle, Fabian Allen, John Campbell, Carlos Brathwaite, Oshane Thomas and Kemar Roach have made way for Sunil Ambris, Khary Pierre, Alzarri Joseph, Brandon King, Romario Shepherd and Hayden Walsh Jr. For Sunday, the injured Evin Lewis is a doubtful starter, said the team’s media manager.
They go into the contest after winning an ODI series against Afghanistan, their first since 2014, in Lucknow.
“Winning is always good, you want to create that environment where you know how to win cricket games,” said Pollard. “What is important is that we came with a clear mission, a clear plan of how we want to approach 50-over cricket and how we want to approach playing the game.”