Why Rishabh Pant won't play as wicket-keeper in the 2019 World Cup
Recently at an event, the 1983 World Cup winning skipper Kapil Dev heaped praise on Indian wicket-keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and referred to him as the ‘greatest player India has ever produced’. This was rich praise coming from arguably India's greatest pace bowler and further solidified Mahi's position in the ranks of cricketing history.
But it's a tricky road ahead for the modern maestro as the flamboyant Rishabh Pant has solidified his place in the Indian Test line-up. The chirpy wicket-keeper batsman has amassed 537 runs at the highest level of the game and is quite handy behind the stumps.
The chairman of selectors MSK Prasad has already tipped Pant to take over from Dhoni once he decides to call it a career, but that decision could come ahead of schedule if this once-in-a-generation player fails to fire in the forthcoming ODI series in Australia.
India is already well-placed ahead of the mega tournament, having recently won the Asia Cup and played exceptionally in the 2017 Champions Trophy, making it to the finals of the tournament. Under Virat Kohli, the Men in Blue are the firm favorites to take home the biggest prize in world cricket, but a fit and firing MSD is crucial to their plans in the tournament.
But Pant has also staked his claim to represent India on the greatest stage in world cricket. He has been phenomenal behind and in front of the stumps in the latest Australia versus India series and doesn't seem to be afraid to give it back to the opposition when he cops a few words.
It's still early days for him on the big stage but he has shown maturity and strength of character when the pressure is on. After eight Tests, he has an average of 49.71 to boast and is part of perhaps India's most formidable touring side.
Despite Pant's accomplishments, fans calling on him to play as the 'keeper in the World Cup are selling possibly India's greatest ever cricketer a bit short. Admittedly, Dhoni has not been at his best recently, but he remains India's best bit when the stakes get as high as they do in world tournaments.
In the recently-concluded series in Australia, MSD was back to his best. Hitting sixes and calling crucial plays in the middle overs, ensuring India built on their success in the Test match series. But there were still calls to play him as a specialist batsman and getting Pant in as the regular keeper. This would hamper the balance of the side since India wants to play at least two all-rounders and Mahi generally allows India to go with a fifth bowling option as well.
Despite calls to have Pant replace Dhoni as the 'keeper, it is unlikely that the erstwhile Indian skipper will be forsaking his wicketkeeping duties in the series. Dhoni is too important a player to be ignored for the tournament and will, in all likelihood, be allowed to cap his magnificent career by lifting the richest prize in cricket at Lord's.
Analysts that believe India is playing him for nostalgic purposes are forgetting how importnat Dhoni has been to the country's cricketing dynasty over the last decade. Counting him out at the grandest stage of them all would be foolhardy. In time, Pant will replace Dhoni. Until then, he can watch from the sidelines as the man with the Midas touch chases destiny.