Rishabh Pant’s is a curious case. A few months ago, the youngster was India’s first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman across all the three formats. Come January 2020, the tables turned and how. In the fourth T20I against New Zealand in the ongoing five-match series, Sanju Samson – who is the side’s second-choice back-up option, was played ahead of Pant.
Former cricketers, including Virender Sehwag, have since come in defence of the Delhi youngster. “Rishabh Pant has been left out how will he score runs? If you bench Sachin Tendulkar also, he won’t be able to score runs. If you feel he is a match-winner, why don’t you play him? Because he is not consistent?” Sehwag had said after the fourth T20I.
In the fourth match against New Zealand, Indian captain Virat Kohli inclined towards making experiment – making three changes to the winning combination which sustained in the first three games. While vice-captain Rohit Sharma was rested for Samson, Navdeep Saini and Washington Sundar were called for Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja respectively.
Moreover, Samson opened the innings with Rahul – a tactic which failed as the Kerala wicketkeeper-batsman failed to step up again. He scored only 8 runs off five deliveries. While it would be harsh to drop Samson, the pressing issue surrounds Rishabh Pant’s absence in the side. He, along with Kuldeep Yadav, are the only two players to not get a game in the series, which brings us to the question – How can Pant be accommodated in the playing XI?
Scenario 1: Rest Shreyas Iyer
The Mumbai batsman has seemingly cemented his place in the Indian T20I side as a number four batsman. Iyer produced remarkable performances in the first two T20Is of the series against New Zealand, playing a crucial role in the first game as he finished the match with an unbeaten 58 off just 29 deliveries. It was a coming-of-age knock for Iyer, as he kept his calm to steer India to a successful 204-run chase after captain Virat Kohli was dismissed minutes after his arrival.
While the last two games produced low-scoring performances for Iyer, it is hard to argue against the notion that the Mumbai batsman has sealed a spot in the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
The team management, thus, may decide to give an opportunity to Rishabh Pant at number five, shifting Manish Pandey to number four in the final T20I at Mount Maunganui.
Scenario 2: Rest KL Rahul
Arguably the best batsman for India in the shortest format of the game over the past year, KL Rahul continued to shine for the side in the series against New Zealand. With two fifty-plus scores, Rahul is currently the highest scorer in the series (179 in 4 matches). In Shikhar Dhawan’s absence, the Karnataka batsman is, once again, looking a favourite to take the opening position, come the T20 World Cup.
However, Rahul’s splendid form and his match-winning performance in the Super Over in the fourth T20I makes it difficult for Kohli and the team management to keep him on the bench. Moreover, Rahul had to accommodate for Dhawan during the home series against Australia, and the management would want him to play as many matches in the opening role as possible.
Yet, if the thinktank deems it fit, resting Rahul for Pant could be a good option – since Pant can don the wicketkeeping gloves in the Karnataka batsman’s absence.
Scenario 3: Virat Kohli to rest himself?
Virat has failed to register a single half-century in the series so far and might be raring to get back among the runs. However, in the past, the Indian skipper has often accommodated for other players by sacrificing his own position.
We saw this most recently in the ODI series against Australia, when Virat dropped himself to the fourth position to accommodate Rahul at three. Will Virat take rest now? The situation can support the argument as India are already leading the series 4-0 and the side is to take on New Zealand in a three-match ODI series from February 5.
In Virat’s absence, Rohit could return as the captain of the side, with Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey at third and fourth respectively and Rishabh Pant coming at number five.
One can only make speculations because there was no press conference on Saturday which could provide certain directions towards team selection. For the sake of discussion, however, Scenario 1 (Rest Shreyas Iyer) could be the most logical choice out of the three to bring Rishabh Pant in the XI.
Virat Kohli’s presence in the Indian batting line-up provides stability to the side, and Manish Pandey, with his performance in the fourth T20I, gave enough signs that he can responsibly fulfil the number-4 role. It would also be unwise to rest KL Rahul, given the form he is in – and the fact that Shikhar Dhawan is still pretty much a part of the Indian limited-overs setup.
Here’s our team for the final T20I:
KL Rahul, Sanju Samson, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (for Shreyas Iyer), Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Kuldeep Yadav (for Yuzvendra Chahal), Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah