Is Rishabh Pant India's surprise weapon for World Cup 2019?
Quite ironically for a nation known for its batting riches, India have found it difficult to plug the gargantuan hole in its middle order. The #4 position for some time now has been a subject of debate and concern for the Indian team.
Yuvraj Singh in the 2011 World Cup is possibly the last person who occupied the role with relative consistency in place and performance. But ever since his bout with cancer and subsequent break from international cricket, India have found it hard to find an able replacement.
Some might put it down to the constant chopping and changing, while others might put it down to the lack of opportunities due to the dominant top order. Irrespective of the causes, the effect remains the same and it is out there for the whole world to see.
In recent times, Ambati Rayudu has raised a strong claim to the spot on the back of some valuable performances in the Asia cup. Rayudu batted at number 3 through the Asia cup, a position that was left vacant in the absence of regular skipper Virat Kohli. But, Kohli's return to the team has meant that Rayudu now occupies the number 4 spot. A position which demands versatile modification of his playing style as per the situation of the game. And Rayudu has so far failed to deliver on that.
If recent reports are to be believed, the Indian Team Management might just be prepping Rishabh Pant to take up the number 4 slot. The probability of Ambati Rayudu being forced out of the team right away is almost next to zero. But in case Rayudu fails again in the series against the Kiwis, he will most probably be replaced.
The Indian team management wouldn't ideally want to take any risks going into the World Cup. This is perhaps why they instructed the Wicket Keeper batsman to bat up the order in the upcoming A team series against the England Lions.
Post the test series against the Aussies, Rishabh Pant was sent back home as MS Dhoni made his return to the Indian Team. This did raise a few eyebrows among those who opined that MSD was past his prime and hence should be replaced. However, in the second coming of sorts, MSD scored 3 half-centuries on the trot and won the Man of the Series award.
While MSD noticeably struggled to keep the scoreboard ticking, it goes without saying that the team management will rate his experience in crunch situations over anything else. It is, therefore, a given that MSD will keep his place in the squad.
That brings us back to the number four slot. Rayudu made his return to the squad after impressive performances in the IPL T20 matches. In the ODI game, Rayudu is still a player who takes his time to settle before he could up the ante and play at convincing strike rates.
Playing Rayudu and MSD at number 4 and 5 could put a lot of pressure on the Indian team considering the fact that the pitches in England are expected to be pretty flat. The Indian top order no matter how dominant and capable, could definitely do with some confidence of having a reliable middle order. And two batsman who struggle to keep up the run rate might not really be ideal for the same.
Rishabh Pant is an aggressive batsman. But just like his success in the long format suggests, he is quite capable of adapting his game and playing according to the situation. Pant has always been a top order batsman in domestic tournaments and in the IPL where he has reaped great success.
In the Indian team, he was played in the lower middle order as a finisher. A role he couldn’t do justice to before eventually getting dropped from the team. Besides, India have now found a replacement in the form of Dinesh Karthik who has proved his ability to finish games along with being a capable backup keeper. If given a chance, Pant could, therefore, play purely as a batsman and probably make the most of the freedom offered in a familiar position.
Pant’s presence in the middle order could also add the much needed left-hander to the Indian batting line up. A line up which otherwise has to wait till a certain Kuldeep Yadav or Ravi Jadeja post the opener in Shikhar Dhawan to have a left-hander at the crease.
When Pant was dropped from the team, The captain, the coach and the selectors vehemently denied that he is out of the World Cup probables list. However, it remains to be seen if India will choose to go in with the raw potential of Pant ahead of a big tournament like the WC. If they do, he could well turn out to be the X factor in the team.