Team India's next assignment in the ICC World Test Championship is a tough two-match Test series against New Zealand in New Zealand. The first Test gets underway at Hamilton on 21st February, 2020 and the second Test is scheduled to be played at Christchurch from 29th February, 2020. With 120 points up for grabs, the upcoming Test series is expected to be a hard-fought series.
India don't have an impressive record in New Zealand in Tests. In 52 years since playing the first Test against the Kiwis in New Zealand, India have won only five of the 23 Tests played in country. Three of the wins were on their maiden Test tour of New Zealand in 1967-68, the fourth win was in the year 1976, and the fifth was in 2009. Thus, India have won just one Test in New Zealand in the last 43 years and will have their task cut out in the upcoming two-match Test series.
It will be interesting to see who India prefer as their first-choice wicket-keeper in the Test series. The team management have two competent choices in the form of the experienced Wriddhiman Saha and the talented Risabh Pant. While Saha has been impressive with the bat in home conditions, Pant has been in good form in Tests at home as well as abroad.
22-year-old Pant has played 11 Tests for India and in 18 innings, he averages 44.35 with the bat and has two centuries to his name. He has taken 51 catches and effected two stumpings and has improved a lot on his skills behind the stumps. Pant has played just two Tests in India and averages an impressive 92 in the said two Tests. He had an impressive tour of Australia in 2018-2019 with the bat and in seven innings, he scored 350 runs, including one century, at an average of 58.33 and was instrumental in India's maiden Test series win in Australia. Even in England, he scored a hundred and is the only Indian wicket-keeper to score a century in both Australia and England. He averages 38 in overseas Tests and is a handy batsman down the order. He scores runs at a quick pace and can change the course of a Test in a session or so. His Test record is impressive, especially in overseas conditions.
Pant was a perfect replacement when Saha was injured and grabbed the opportunity with both hands in the absence of the senior wicket-keeper.
Saha is flawless behind the stumps and is arguably the best wicket-keeper in India. He is a gusty batsman but his record outside India with the bat is not very impressive. He averages 18.50 with the bat in Australia, 4 in a solitary Test in South Africa, and 51.25 in West Indies. His batting average at home is 30.82, and 29.47 when playing abroad, but most of his overseas runs have been in West Indies and Sri Lanka.
The team management may be tempted to play Pant over Saha in the Test series against New Zealand as the former is a better equipped batsman than Saha in overseas conditions.
Pant scored an impressive 70 in the second innings of the recently-concluded practice match against New Zealand A; his knock included four boundaries and four sixes. After getting out for a duck in the first innings of the said match, Saha scored an unbeaten 30 in the second innings.
India don't have any left-handed batsman in their top order and the presence of Pant, who is a southpaw, may be handy for the team.
All in all, Pant having tasted success with the bat in Australia and to an extent in England, should be the first choice wicket-keeper batsman for India, especially in overseas conditions. He has scored vital runs for the team down the order and is effective behind the stumps too. It will not be a surprise if Pant is preferred over 35-year-old Saha in the upcoming match Test series against the Kiwis.
If Pant is selected in the playing XI and has an impressive series, it will be very difficult for the management to look beyond him in Test cricket.Published 16 Feb 2020, 21:15 IST