Pant or DK, not Pant and DK
The absence of all-round options forces India to leave out one of the two dynamic batters and the inconsistency in selection is affecting performances of both.
For the first time in a long time, Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik were listed in the same Indian playing sheet in Nagpur on Friday. But cricket hasn’t normalized 8-overs cricket, just yet.
For those not up to speed with T20 dynamics, it would appear Karthik and Pant’s selection is a toss-of-the-coin call, musical chairs, if you like. Karthik, India’s designated finisher, batting at No 7, plays that uplifting 19-ball 41* at Trinidad against West Indies in July. After that, he only gets to plays 8 out of the next 13 T2OIs. Rishabh Pant, picked for potentially being a left-handed game-breaker at No 5, plays in the other matches.
Why can’t India play both of them together, if they fulfil the modern-day criteria of showing early intent in their respective batting positions? It’s a question that’s been posed by many an expert.
“I actually think that India’s best team has both of these players (Karthik and Pant). I don’t care if they are both keepers but I think their batting prowess is enough. Rishabh in the middle order and Dinesh as a finisher, they look extremely dangerous to me,” Ricky Ponting, Pant’s IPL coach recently told the ICC website.
“They can play together, but I think Pant has definitely got to be in there," Adam Gilchrist, Australia’s dashing wicket-keeper of his time concurred.
It isn’t their wicket-keeping that comes in the way of their selection. In KL Rahul, India has another keeping option, too. Most teams play multiple wicket-keepers in this format; it’s their batting efficiency that counts.
India’s problem is driven by the absence of all-round options in the squad. None of the batters can bowl and most of the bowlers can’t bat. A few can, but barring Ravichandran Ashwin they are not effective T20 boundary-hitters, lower down the order. To ensure one of Deepak Hooda or Axar Patel play, India is forced to drop Pant or Karthik. Hooda played in the Asia Cup and didn’t bowl an over. Axar played at Mohali and didn’t bat that effectively. But when either of them plays, they work as cover to Hardik Pandya’s fifth bowler’s quota. Or as a backup for a leading bowler to have a rainy day.
This is a fundamental problem, that’s been omnipresent in India’s white-ball game. Ravindra Jadeja’s injury has compounded the problem. Should the selectors and the team management not have taken braver calls to address this playing eleven-imbalance?
One such bold call would have been to play only one of Virat Kohli and KL Rahul in the top three. Suryakumar Yadav can’t multi-task either, but he is the team’s most dynamic T20 batting force. Those calls needed to be made months, not days, ahead of the World Cup.
As a result, India hasn’t been able to get the best out of Pant and Karthik.
Karthik had an astonishing IPL 2022, where his strike rate as a finisher was 183.3, which earned him an India recall. It’s an extreme role that the seasoned campaigner fulfilled to perfection for Royal Challengers Bangalore. But his 2022 T20I Strike Rate (132.6) pales in comparison.
While he batted 11.25 balls per match in IPL, his time spent at the crease in T20Is, this year is restricted to batting 8.33 balls per match. To correct that, India would need Karthik to come in ahead of Axar Patel, if a situation warrants.
In T20Is this year, Pant also does not have the same returns as IPL 2022 – (SR 131.6 to 151.7). But at least in his case, he’s got the same game time as in IPL for Delhi Capitals. The challenge before him is to raise his game. He’s got solid backing.
“He'll be exceptionally dangerous for India, especially on the wickets we'll provide in Australia... good flat, fast, bouncy wickets," said Ponting.