The Indian cricket team had almost all its bases covered entering into the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, except one – the number 4 slot in the batting order. After trying a series of players in that slot, the management was looking all set to go with Hyderabad batsman Ambati Rayudu, when a few uninspiring performances led the selectors to go for Vijay Shankar instead. However, entering the warm-up games, KL Rahul – usually an opener – played a good innings against Bangladesh to seal the number 4 slot.
When all seemed to be going to plan, a Shikhar Dhawan injury against Australia brought India back to the same conundrum of the number 4 slot as Rahul was the first choice replacement for Dhawan at the top. The Indian side did try Vijay Shankar for a couple of games, but the Tamil Nadu all-rounder missed out on the opportunities, failing to impress with the bat on both occasions. Injury/lack of quality performances transpired the accent of Rishabh Pant within the Indian squad, led by Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri, drafting in the Delhi batsman at the all-important number 4 position.
Debut World Cup: Pant shows sparks of brilliance
Rishabh Pant, in just his second World Cup game, played a decent knock under pressure against England. Pant, along with Pandya, tried to up the ante when the required run-rate was creeping up a bit too high, stitching a handy partnership. In the semi-final against New Zealand too, Pant played a steady knock, coming in to bat when India had lost both Rohit Sharma and skipper Kohli with virtually nothing on the board. Pant came in to steady the innings while curbing his natural game, playing according to the situation for the most part of his stay at the wicket.
Role of Indian management
Rishabh Pant has shown his capability in the IPL, playing a few match-winning knocks for the Delhi franchise. Even his record in Test cricket is quite inspiring, with centuries in England and Australia in a relatively young Test career. Pant has, time and again, proved his credentials with the bat for his sides. However, we have all seen him throw his wicket away at times playing rash shots. In both the games in the World Cup when he was set, Pant got out playing a high-risk shot.
Quite often have we heard the lines: “He is young, and will learn with time” and rightfully so. Someone as young and fresh in international cricket would take some time to become a mature cricketer. We cannot expect a Dhoni or Kohli-like maturity from Pant. However, the same set of people were after him when he holed out in the deep attempting a big hit against Mitchell Santner in the semis.
This is where the role of the Indian team management becomes extremely critical. Ricky Ponting’s words did wonders making Pant finish the last few games for Delhi when initially, he was getting out in a similar pattern. In a similar manner, the Indian side needs to groom the future wicket-keeper for the number 4 slot by giving him ample games at the position and maybe talking to him about the need to adapt to the situation of the game.
With Pandya maturing as a cricketer, India could well have a lethal number 4 and 5 in the batting order, a pair that could dominate the middle overs for years to come.