India had a forgettable day at Basin Reserve, Wellington on the first day of the first Test of their New Zealand tour. While Indian batsmen's helplessness in front of the New Zealand bowlers was the talk of the town, another incident which raised quite a few eyebrows before the match started was India's decision to go with Rishabh Pant as the wicket-keeper, leaving veteran Wriddhiman Saha to warm the bench.
The inclusion of Pant in place of an experienced Saha took the cricket fraternity by surprise. Many cricket pundits like Harsha Bhogle, Akash Chopra, etc. expressed their disappointments over Saha's exclusion. But while everyone was busy over showing their sympathy to Saha, another question which crept in was - Has India's first-choice wicket-keeper conundrum shifted to Tests as well?
Just up and see Saha is left out. We have just told every young keeper in India not to bother becoming the best in the world behind the stumps and instead focus on getting a few more runs in front of them. Disappointed.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) February 21, 2020
Probable scenario—5 batsmen plus Pant. And play Five bowlers.— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) February 21, 2020
Reality—6 batsman plus Pant and no Saha. Didn’t see that coming. #NZvInd
Before searching answer to this question, let's have a look at what made this question rise. After the retirement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India preferred Wriddhiman Saha as their next gloveman. But a shoulder injury sustained by Saha in 2018 and the failed comeback of Dinesh Karthik in Tests opened the gate for young Rishabh Pant. Pant did exceptionally well in India's two overseas tours of England and Australia, both in front and behind the stumps. However, after the 2019 World Cup, his form started to dip down, eventually bringing Saha back to the equation in the home season.
Saha donned the gloves for India in Tests in the home season. He even got the backings of the skipper and the team management. Although he got very few opportunities to prove his worth as a batsman, he was in the form of his life behind the stumps. And after the exclusion of Pant from the playing XI in the recently concluded T20I and ODI series against New Zealand, it was almost certain that Wriddhiman Saha would feature as India's wicket-keeper in the first Test against New Zealand.
But to everyone's surprise, India went with Pant, even though they had Saha who could be the best bet behind the stumps in such swinging conditions. What could be the reason to leave their best wicket-keeper out? Probably due to Pant's fantastic overseas record, or maybe, India are looking forward to replace an aging Saha with Pant in Test cricket. Or maybe India are planning to play Saha in subcontinent and Pant overseas.
The debate regarding Pant's inclusion over Saha or vice versa (if Saha replaces Pant in future) may further continue until one of them displays the performance of his life and seals the spot. But if looked into the matter from another angle, one may see a hidden picture i.e. India's dilemma over the selection of wicket-keeper in Tests. Many may call it a surprise move or the need of the hour, but India's frequent swapping of wicket-keepers in Tests prove their keeper's conundrum in the longest format as well, something which they have been dealing with in white-ball cricket.
India must have a clear picture regarding their best wicket-keeping option in Tests. The team management may invest in Pant looking at the future or continue with Saha for another couple of years. But that should be made clear to both of them as not being sure of their place in the playing XI even after performing well will surely have a psychological impact on the player's game.
India did too much of chopping and changing for the no.4 spot ahead of the World Cup 2019 which apparently cost them the semi-final. And if the same thing happens while selecting the best wicket-keeper in Tests, India may suffer the same fate in the ICC World Test Championship 2021.
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