Should India go with KL Rahul as their first-choice wicket-keeper in white-ball cricket?

Jnan Jyoti Deka

Will India continue with KL Rahul as their man behind the stumps?

Ever since World Cup 2019, we all have wondered about Mahendra Singh Dhoni's successor behind the stumps. Even though Rishabh Pant was assumed to be the one at that time looking at the way the selectors and the team management backed him, a lot has happened since then, keeping the question trending.

Enter Rahul

The most remarkable of those happenings took place in the recently concluded ODI series against Australia when KL Rahul was handed the responsibility to don the gloves after Rishabh Pant was ruled out due to concussion injury in the 1st ODI. Rahul continued to keep wickets in the 2nd ODI too as Pant was kept under observation according to the concussion protocol. But surprisingly, even after being available for the 3rd ODI, Pant was made to warm the bench and India continued with Rahul as their first choice wicket-keeper, putting forward the question-should India go with KL Rahul as their gloveman in white-ball cricket?

The question makes sense. But before getting into the answer, it is important to know why this question popped up.

Before the 2019 Cricket World Cup, the selectors made it clear that Rishabh Pant would be the first choice to fill Dhoni's shoes and would be groomed accordingly. And, as expected, he was provided with enough opportunities after the World Cup to cement his place in the Indian squad. However, Pant's inconsistency with the bat and his scratchy glovework behind the stumps did not help his cause and raised questions over his selection in the squad.

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The selectors and the team management, however, continued to back him in the limited-overs formats despite the sublime form of Sanju Samson. And probably, he would have got few more chances to prove himself had he not been ruled out due to concussion.

Rishabh Pant

A hit on the helmet and the entire scene changed! KL Rahul did everything right with the gloves. He looked comfortable, took catches and effected a stumping- all that expected from a specialist wicket-keeper. And added to these, he continued his purple patch and scored two fifties in the series batting at different positions.

But should India move ahead with Rahul after his success in the series? Rahul has kept wickets in the IPL, Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy and thus has the experience with the white ball. His flexibility to bat at any no. also adds value to his case. Moreover, playing him as the wicket-keeper will not only allow India to accommodate an additional batsman in the playing XI but also help the team to have a settled middle order. And looking at his age, investments can be made on him for the future.

Adding a new dimension

There is no doubt about the potential of Rishabh Pant and neither about Sanju Samson, who has been waiting for a long time for his chances to come. Ideally, Samson should have replaced Pant after the former's below-par shows but a successful KL Rahul in the ODI series against the kangaroos added another dimension to India's wicket-keeper's equation.

India should go ahead with Rahul as their first-choice keeper, but only if they are willing to play him in that role in the long run and should also see that the added responsibility does not affect his batting. Moreover, he needs to be prepared and treated .as a specialist wicket-keeper and not as a stand-in one.

It remains to be seen who will keep wickets in India's upcoming tour of New Zealand as all three- Pant, Rahul and Samson are in the squad. But if India wish to continue with Rahul, there is nothing wrong with it and India should try Rahul in this new role as it will allow India to explore more options regarding the selection of a strong playing XI for the upcoming T20 World Cup.

Once Rahul Dravid stood behind the stumps and the move proved to be a successful one in the 2003 World Cup. And now if India want to try the same, they should, provided Rahul is seen as a long-term solution to their wicket-keeper's conundrum.

Sanju SAmson- Waiting in the wings.