January 29, 2017 5:22:55 am
IT’S BEEN an incredible four months for Rishabh Pant. Plundering runs at a scorching pace in his first full Ranji season, the 19-year-old was rewarded for his feisty batting when the selectors named him for the T20 series against England. Critics feel his induction into the senior side came a tad too soon. In his brief exposure at the international stage — a warm-up game against England at Mumbai’s CCI Ground last week — the left-hander smashed 59 of just 36 balls. That knock settled the question of his abilities against international attacks.
Exactly where will you fit him in the playing XI? With the old war horse MS Dhoni’s donning the gloves, Pant has to be played purely as a batsman. And that means some other player will have to be made a sacrificial lamb. Let us examine some of the possible slots where the teenager can be included.
As an opener
Before the series, there was a fair degree of ambiguity on who would partner KL Rahul. Some wondered if young Mandeep would partner the Karnataka batsman. However, in an obvious attempt to inject a degree of stability at the top, captain Virat Kohli stepped up to open the innings in the first T20 game at Kanpur. It was a pragmatic call, and although he scored just 29, he did make it clear that he would continue to open in this format till Rohit Sharma returns from injury. In such a scenario, if Pant is to be played as an opener, the selectors will have to drop Rahul. Having failed in the three ODIs and the T20, the 24-year-old is indeed under a bit of strife. But it will be unfair if he is dropped to include Pant.
You can see the temptation to play him as an opener as India would only stand to gain by Pant’s success at the top. Most international teams have an all-out attacking option at the top in the shortest format while India don’t. Rahul though isn’t a natural hitter. It would be silly to have Virat Kohli swinging around instead of anchoring the innings even in T20 format. And if Pant can turn out to be a success, India can breathe a touch easy in the shortest format. But it would come down to this: Has Rahul done anything egregiously bad yet to deserve the drop?
The middle order
The only slot remaining would be No.6. This would mean that the axe would fall on Manish Pandey. Like Rahul, it would be unfair to drop his Karnataka team-mate. Following his unbeaten ton in an ODI against Australia at the SCG last year, the 27-year-old has got very few chances at the international level.
On the flip side, though, this can be an interesting replacement. Pandey can be a very good lower middle order batsman in a 50-over contest but is he a big enough hitter to come as a finisher in T20s? Pant might be slotted as Pandey’s replacement to see if he can do the finisher’s role. If he is a success here, it would be an immense relief to Dhoni and Hardik Pandya as it gives India another attacking option. If it does come down to this, Pandey would have every reason to feel let down.
The lower order
The final option would be to drop one of the bowlers and include Pant down the order. However, even this move will invite a fair share of criticism. Dropping off-spinner Parvez Rasool after his T20 debut would be harsh. It would go against the template Kohli and his coach Kumble are trying to set, which is to give each player a decent run. And if they are to drop Rasool, a better replacement would be Amit Mishra instead of going with an extra batsman. Dropping Rasool would mean that Kohli would have to depend on Raina’s part-timers. Judging by the manner in which England captain Eoin Morgan had launched into Raina in Kanpur, Kohli would indeed be jittery about using his services. In such a scenario, Pant will have no other option but to sit out.
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