India vs England: Rishabh Pant must be part of playing XI, to make best use of opportunity

The inclusion of 19-year-old Rishabh Pant in the squad for the upcoming T20I series against England at home comes at the fag end of India's first-class season. In the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season, the youngster from Delhi smashed 961 runs at a strike rate of more than a run a ball – a fair reflection of both his hitting prowess and his ability to sustain it over long periods of time. In fact, in a run-fest against Maharashtra, Pant's triple century effort of 308 came in just 326 balls. It was this mammoth innings that could well have tipped the selection in his favor.

File photo of Rishabh Pant. PTI

File photo of Rishabh Pant. PTI

His inclusion in the national squad comes ahead of another talent long expected to break through – Pant’s Delhi Daredevils team-mate Sanju Samson. The latter's form and consistency have faded of late, both domestically and during A tours.

In addition, the squad also has a back-up T20 wicketkeeper in KL Rahul, who has been the man behind the wickets for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. Rahul’s batting has grown and matured leaps and bounds this season, and his keeping would offer great flexibility to the team composition, once Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s time is up.

Pant’s heavy hitting capabilities have never been in question, especially ever since he belted out whirlwind fifties and a hundred at the Under-19 World Cup in 2016. It was around the same time that he was also got picked by the Delhi Daredevils for a whopping 1.9 crores, which was 19 times his base price.

The young batsman played a couple of noteworthy innings for Delhi Daredevils during the 2016 IPL season as well, and not surprisingly, has been retained by his franchise for the next season. However, it is his consistency over a long domestic season that followed the IPL, with massive innings which the likes of Samson have not yet been able to put together, that has helped him find a place 16-member squad.

At the outset, a lot of the left-hander’s shots bear a striking resemblance to MS Dhoni’s, a sort of lateral inversion of the former Indian captain’s shots, along with some of the minimalism and effortlessness. Watch him go leg side with lazy elegance, and you’re reminded of a (fitter) Darren Lehmann in his pomp, carting bowlers for sixes over mid-wicket. Without getting into a game of spot-the-bat-swing, suffice it to say that the youngster’s batting is ideal for the shortest format.

While his batting is more than up to scratch after an IPL season and a successful outing in the Ranji Trophy, his keeping is not. He is now Delhi’s first-choice gloveman, but there is a widespread feeling that this aspect of his game needs time to develop. To that extent, grooming him with Dhoni still in the mix, is a perfect punt from the selectors.

However, the 50-over format is where he has had the most success so far in his Under-19 career, and as his game behind the wickets develops, it could be where he finds his feet going forward.

India play three T20 matches in this series, followed by a period of relative scarcity in limited overs fixtures. And after being thrown into the mix, Pant must be given a starting XI spot and persisted with over these three games. It is an opportunity both for him and the selectors to have a first look at what could be one of the breakout talents from the next generation of Indian cricketers.

Published Date: Jan 07, 2017 11:27 AM | Updated Date: Jan 07, 2017 11:27 AM

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