Every cricketer wants to be a hero for his country. For a player, stepping onto the field while wearing the national team's colours is also the highest honour. But opportunities do not present themselves easily. One needs to be in the right place and at the right time. Rishabh Pant, one can argue, was in the exact place and at the exact time.
With a side devoid of its best batsman and full-time captain in Virat Kohli, India needed a hero to bail them out. Rishabh Pant did this not once, but twice in consecutive Test matches in Sydney and at The Gabba in Brisbane.
With the Border-Gavaskar Trophy retained, Rishabh Pant did not stop there. He sent England’s Jack Leach to all parts of the park in the first Test back home against England and ended up scoring a madness-filled 91.
In the fourth Test, Rishabh Pant bailed India out again, this time with a brilliant hundred, which included a reverse sweep to James Anderson. Such has been his enigmatic presence that despite wicket-keeping being his second-best suit, selectors are pushing him as the first-choice wicketkeeper for red-ball cricket over Wriddhiman Saha.
Rishabh Pant's not-so-great white ball record
Despite Rishabh Pant's Test heroics, he has not been at his best in white-ball cricket for India for the past couple of years. This is ironic as Rishabh Pant plays Test cricket with a limited-overs mindset. But for reasons unknown, he has not been able to emulate his Test performances in the shorter formats.
Rishabh Pant was given opportunities at the highest level in ODIs as the designated No. 4 batsman. Despite this, Rishabh Pant could not capitalise as he has managed to score 374 runs in 14 innings at a paltry average of 26.71 with just one half-century to his name.
For someone whose preferred hunting format is T20s, Rishabh Pant has still not found a way to score runs for India. He was preferred over Sanju Samson on most occasions, which did not sit well with many critics of the cricketing world. Since 2019, Rishabh Pant has scored 30+ four times in his 20 innings in T20Is converting only one of them into a fifty.
The factor in question is his strike rate. Rishabh Pant has scored at a strike rate just touching 126 since 2019, which is significantly different to his strike rate at the IPL during the same period (138 runs per 100 balls). His IPL strike rate in 2020 was 113.95 runs per 100 balls, which shows a stark difference from his IPL career strike rate of 151.97.
Selectors must understand the need to extract the best from the players in the format they prefer. Rishabh Pant has proven himself at the highest level in Test cricket and the selectors will have left no choice but to pick him as the first-choice wicketkeeper for India. But his white-ball exploits are not the best that the amazing talent pool of India possesses.
With Ishan Kishan and KL Rahul in the picture, Rishabh Pant might not be the best option for India going into the T20 World Cup. This policy of rotation will help Rishabh Pant focus on improving his wicket-keeping for the longest format and showcase his immense talent.
After not being picked in the ODI and T20 squad for Australia, Rishabh Pant showed what he can do in the Tests. Dropping him from T20Is might come in very handy for both the Indian Cricket Team and Rishabh Pant himself. Many have opined that the rotation policy might not work for Indian players. But it is the way forward and will bring the best out of these players.
Rishabh Pant's Australian tour serves as a base that should motivate the management to look at this with a broader mindset.