Editor's Note: The MSK Prasad-led selection panel’s unveiling of the India World Cup squad on Monday has left fans and experts divided over the selection of Dinesh Karthik over Rishabh Pant as the second wicket-keeper in the squad. As the Pant vs Karthik debate rages on, Firstpost analyses why the young Delhi batsmen would’ve been an ideal back-up to the veteran MS Dhoni in India’s final 15 for the big event. To read the opposing viewpoint, click here.
The MSK Prasad-led selection panel put an end to all the hype and speculation surrounding the India squad for the 2019 World Cup.
In a televised press conference at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai, the selection panel announced the 15-man contingent in which most of the members picked themselves into the side on the basis of a consistent run over the last couple of years.
There was a tussle over a couple of spots in the side, including that of the extra wicket-keeper’s slot and the No 4 position. While Prasad and Co have projected Vijay Shankar as the ideal candidate for the latter, they have left both pundits as well as Indian cricket fans divided when they decided to go ahead with Dinesh Karthik over Rishabh Pant as their choice for MS Dhoni’s backup.
The selectors pitched their idea of Karthik’s superior wicket-keeping skills as the factor behind their decision, a factor many agreed with on the social media as well as in the host of analysis coming in.
However, one can’t help but feel for young Pant, who has been charting a rapid rise in international cricket in recent years. Lest we forget, it is Pant who has been projected as MS Dhoni’s heir, is a certainty in Test cricket even with Wriddhiman Saha set to make a comeback from injury, has been elevated in BCCI’s contracts list and is picked in limited-overs squads more often than not purely for his batting skills, even in Dhoni’s presence behind the stumps.
Karthik certainly has made a strong comeback into the team in recent years with Dhoni slowly starting to fade out, and has impressed with his finishing ability as well as safe glove work. However, does he bring in the x-factor that Pant possesses, the ability to switch gears and turn the game on its head in an instant? Not many would agree. Barring an injury to Dhoni, Karthik might not get a game but had the Indian middle order struggled, they would have had the option of trying something different in Pant that Karthik doesn't bring to the table.
If there ever were any doubts over Pant’s big-hitting skills, they would’ve been silenced in his blistering knock of 78 off 27 balls in Delhi Capitals’ away clash against Mumbai Indians. It was an innings that had made him, in the mind of many, a certainty for the India World Cup squad — taking the difference of tournament and format into account.
Barring a couple of hiccups, the Delhi boy has been in decent form this IPL, averaging 35 and hitting at a strike rate of 161 that would at least assure us of the fact that he is in good nick and positive space of mind at the moment.
Even the legendary Sunil Gavaskar was surprised by his omission.
“A bit surprised, looking at his (Pant’s) form. He was batting exceptionally well, not only in the IPL but before that also. He was showing great improvement his wicket-keeping as well. He brings that left-handed option in the top-six which is very handy against the bowlers,” Gavaskar said on India Today.
The Indian batting unit has been top-heavy for quite some time now, and the middle order’s shakiness is what led to the No 4 debate in the first place. Perhaps they could have done something different and tried Pant at that spot for the World Cup.
Between Pant and Karthik, the former makes a stronger case for selection purely as a batsman with Dhoni still around, and his aggressive strokeplay could’ve come in handy for the team either to supplement a strong start or to put the pressure right back on the opposition in case the top order suffers a couple of jolts. His left-handedness could also have also helped a team lacking left-handers with left-right combinations.
“The bowlers have to change their line (for a left-hander) and the captains have to do a lot of field arrangements,” Gavaskar added.
But, the fact of the matter is that Pant has been consigned to the corner of the room now as the others take the spotlight in the big event in England and Wales. Had he been selected, Pant’s confidence would’ve skyrocketed and would’ve perhaps reflected in his skills. Instead, he has to quietly wait for his turn.
The World T20 will take place a year later, and Dhoni isn’t a likely candidate for the keeper’s slot in that tournament. Perhaps Pant would’ve done enough by then to just walk into the XI.