By Prasenjit Dey
Rishabh Pant started his IPL 2019 campaign with a blazing 27-ball 78* against Mumbai Indians. The Wankhede crowd witnessed some effective power-hitting, a bit clumsy too. Pant didn’t show mercy on any bowler, not even the world’s best in the T20 format, Jasprit Bumrah. The innings promised bigger and better things for the 21-year-old in the upcoming matches and at the same time, it strengthened his chances of making it to India’s World Cup squad.
However, Pant has found the going tough in his last five IPL matches. He hasn’t got a single fifty-plus score but has managed to keep his strike-rate over 130 (130.6) since his heroics against Rohit Sharma’s side. It’s his temperament and the inability to finish off the games that has raised the question whether he’s ready for a big tournament like the World Cup or not. Delhi Capitals, who have so far won three of their six matches, could have sealed a couple of more victories had he stayed at the crease till the end.
“Rishabh Pant is an extraordinary and exciting player. He makes even good balls look like bad ones with the kind of shots he has in his armoury. He can change the course of a game in the blink of an eye. But at the same time, he needs to find consistency,” said Ajay Ratra, the former India wicketkeeper-batsman, in an interview.
“At the moment, he takes a lot of risks and he needs to reduce the risk factor in his game in order to become more consistent.”
Although Pant has hit Test centuries in England and Australia, he hasn’t been able to make the same impact in the shorter formats. While he has scored 233 runs in 14 T20I innings at an average of 19.41, tally of 93 runs in five ODIs is even worse. That’s why Pant hasn’t been able to cement his place in the World Cup squad, and is still in the race along with Dinesh Karthik for the backup wicketkeeper’s slot.
India skipper Virat Kohli had made it clear before the home series against Australia that the IPL performance wasn’t going to influence the World Cup selection. However, Ratra, who represented India in six Tests and 12 ODIs, feels the tournament is important for both Pant and Karthik and a good show can all but confirm their place in the 15-member squad for the showpiece event in England, which begins on May 30.
“IPL form doesn't matter for the core group of 11-12 players. But it is very important for the fringe players like Pant and Karthik,” he said.
“If you are going into a major tournament like the World Cup, you would obviously want to carry in-form players. It remains to be seen how these two perform during the rest of the IPL season.”
Asked who is a better wicketkeeper between Pant and Karthik, Ratra said: “Pant needs to work a bit on his keeping at the moment. He always has a habit of moving towards the left which makes it difficult for him to hold on to the catches to his right. So, he needs to work a bit on the basics like positioning. From what I have seen of Pant, he is not a very good fielder too. His only way into the team is with the gloves on.
“Karthik, on the other hand, is a more compact player as compared to him. He is a very safe wicket-keeper and at the same time, an excellent fielder as well. He can fit into the squad in any role. Unless Pant does something extraordinary with the bat during the rest of the IPL, I don’t see him boarding the flight for the World Cup ahead of Karthik.”
At the same time, Ratra believes Pant has the potential to carry MS Dhoni’s legacy forward. “If you have followed MS Dhoni’s career over the years, he was quite inconsistent as a Keeper during his initial years. But he worked on it and improved with time to become the force he is today. If Pant also works on his keeping skills and temperament as a batsman, he will go very close to achieving what Dhoni has achieved in the years ahead.”
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