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Decoding India’s wicketkeeper conundrum

Source: Twitter

With MS Dhoni’s legacy starting to fade away from Indian cricket, the debate on who should be Men in Blue’s next wicket-keeper batsman in different formats has picked up momentum like never before. Rishabh Pant, who was initially believed to be a successor of Dhoni in all three formats, hasn’t yet lived up to the expectations and his inconsistency with bat in hand made way for KL Rahul to take up the keeping gloves in white-ball cricket during India’s last limited-overs’ assignment in New Zealand earlier this year.

Even in the post-COVID world, things have gone downhill for Pant as following his recent poor show in the IPL, the Delhi lad has now lost his place in the Indian limited-overs sides, which will take on Australia in the upcoming series in Down Under starting from Friday (November 27).

Meanwhile, Pant’s loss has been a gain for Sanju Samson, who recently had an impressive IPL campaign with Rajasthan Royals in the UAE. In Australia, the Kerala boy will be the lone specialist wicketkeeper-batsman in India’s T20I squad. Though, with the team management more inclined towards grooming Rahul behind the stumps in white-ball cricket (especially in T20s), Samson is unlikely to be the first-choice option in the playing XI.

(Source: bcci.tv)

Now, here lies an important question.

How feasible is the decision of grooming Rahul as a keeper-batsman for white-ball cricket? Let’s not forget that he is an important all-format top-order batsman for the Indian team and the extra responsibility might have an impact on his batting. In the past we had seen how careers faded away while trying do too many things (Irfan Pathan for instance).

For T20Is, Rahul still can do the job as he seems to be a decent gloveman and more importantly his inclusion in the XI as a keeper adds a lot of flexibility to the team. So, with two T20 World Cups scheduled in back in next couple of years, perhaps he seems to be the ideal option as of now.

However, when it comes to the 50-over format, the think-tank needs to look for a long-term option. Here, many, including the BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly, believe that Pant is man who despite his recent failures, will eventually take the spot.

“He [Pant] and Wriddhiman Saha are our two best wicketkeeper-batsmen in the country,” Ganguly recently told PTI. “Don’t worry [regarding his low strike-rate in the IPL]. His [Pant’s] bat swing will come back. He is a young guy and all of us need to guide him. He’s got tremendous talent. Rishabh will be fine.”

Now let’s talk about the curious case of Saha, who since Dhoni’s Test retirement back in 2014, is officially the first-choice keeper-batsman in India’s red-ball team. Though during this timeframe he has only featured in 34 matches. Yes, sometimes injuries kept him out of the side but also there were multiple instances of someone else was preferred ahead of a fit Saha.

Source: Twitter (BCCI)

Despite being one of the best glovemen in contemporary cricket (if not the best), it seems, somehow the team management is not convinced with Saha’s batting skills, especially on overseas conditions. The latest instance of such incident took place during India’s two-match Test series in New Zealand earlier this year where Pant got the nod ahead of him. The team management justified this move by saying in tough batting conditions they need extra security down the order.

Interestingly, Pant could only score 60 runs in four innings in that series.

In the upcoming Border-Gavaskar trophy a 35-year old Saha and along with a 22-year old Pant will be a part of the Indian squad and if the team management consider recent form then Saha should play the first Test in Adelaide, provided he is fit.

In the recent past, India did too much of chopping and changing for the No.4 spot in limited-overs cricket ahead of the 2019 World Cup which apparently cost them in that semi-final against New Zealand. And now fans can only hope that the think-tank should not make the same mistake while choosing the best possible wicketkeeper across formats.

Sandipan Banerjee is a senior cricket journalist with experience stretching across more than a decade. Having founded a number of cricket information resources and prior experience of working in big-ticket events like ICC Cricket World Cup, IPL and ICC Champions’ Trophy; he joined the team at CricketNews.com in 2019 to provide strategic guidance and to assume a brand ambassador role as principal correspondent. Due to Sandipan’s commitment towards the game, it’s safe to assume that if India are involved in a Test, ODI or a T20I, he’ll be there covering the match!

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