India vs Australia 2020: Is it time for Rishabh Pant to go?

Aanirudh Kheterpal

England v India - ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

MS Dhoni left the Indian side with massive shoes to fill, albeit after a fair share of criticism and backlash. This made room for India's next big sensation Rishabh Pant to prove his worth to the world, not only with the gloves but with the bat too.

On the 21st of October 2018, Pant made a rather silent debut against the West Indies at Guwahati, with MS Dhoni still keeping the gloves and the top order managing to comfortably chase down the opposition's total of 322 within 42.1 overs.

It was only on the third match of this West Indies series that Pant first got a chance to showcase his skills. Walking in at 135/3 in the 25th over with India chasing 284 for the match and series victory, Pant hit 17 off 13 deliveries. He found himself walking back after getting out lbw, hoicking across to the leg side in trademark Pant fashion.

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The left-hander's leg side hoick was certainly not new to the cricketing world. Pant had managed to pull off some sensational IPL innings before his national debut, which abundantly feature this leg side hoick. Under halfway through the chase of 283, Pant's instinct based temperament was first tested, with the situation demanding to build a partnership rather than playing extravagant shots. But this simply went against his style of playing, as he succumbed to a slower ball from West Indian Marlon Samuels.

Australia then came to play in India, where Pant played only two games. In the first, he managed a neat little cameo, and in the second, succumbed early to dip and spin.

And then came the biggest stage of them all, the ICC World Cup 2019. With MS Dhoni still playing, Pant continued to be picked as a specialist batsman despite his meagre returns, perhaps with India running out of time to risk playing someone different.

Also read: Is Rishabh Pant over-rated or over-confident?

In his first game with India playing England, the 22-year old was forced to accelerate, with India needing over a 100 runs in the last 10 overs to chase England's 337. Here again, he could only manage 32 off 29 deliveries, falling to his favourite leg side hoick.

Pant's first innings of substance came against Bangladesh, where he hit 48 from 41 balls to propell India to 314, after a familiar top-order show. This was the first proof of the Delhi Capital batsmen's ability to play longer, substantial innings, spending more time at the crease.

And then there was the memorable semi-final exit against New Zealand. The Blackcaps managed to keep Pant quiet for an extended period of time. With barely 70 on the board and four wickets lost, India required just one big partnership to chase down New Zealand's 239. In the 22nd over, time wasn't a problem either. After a string of dot balls, you could almost sense through the television screen that something was going to give. And predictably, Pant went for his leg side hoick as a release shot, only to hole out to Colin de Grandhomme. India were reduced to 71/5, realistically crushing their chances of making the finals.

And then the whole MS Dhoni saga unfolded, leaving Pant to deal with the gloves and the bat. The post World Cup West Indies series again saw meagre returns, with a slow 35 ball 20 and a first ball duck. But when the Windies returned to India, Pant paired with Iyer to make his highest score in ODIs - a 69-ball 71, after the top order had a rare collective failure. He bettered it in the second match, with a blazing 16-ball 39, reminding the world why he was ever picked in the first place.

While Pant certainly possesses immense talent, it certainly isn't consistent enough to guarantee him selection. His inexperience clearly shows through his use of extravagant shots in situations that require him to hold anchor. There is a valid argument that he is only 22, and needs game time to gain maturity. But there are glaring flaws in his batting technique, which most times fetch him low scores. After 17 matches, avergaging under 30 in an Indian team with all batsman averaging north of 40, Pant's returns are not sufficient. In order to cement his place in this Indian side, he must become a multi-faceted player with the ability to not only strike the cricket ball, but manipulate it into gaps and take pressure off of himself. He needs to learn to wait for a bad ball to tee off.

The question is, for how long can the Indian team wait for him to mature, before they have to try someone else.

Also read: Rishabh Pant suffers concussion during 1st ODI vs Australia in Mumbai