Three years ago, Rishabh Pant was finding his feet in top-flight cricket while being earmarked as MS Dhoni’s successor. Public criticism is part and parcel of the game without a shadow of a doubt. But the unwanted pressure of holding on to a ‘Dhoni-esque’ paradigm perhaps made the job even tougher for the happy-go-lucky lad from Roorkee. The boy who trained at the famed Sonnet Club had finally realised his India dream but faced the cumbersome task to fill in the big boots of Dhoni. Despite constant comparisons and crowd chants, Pant looked his usual chirpy self, wearing his heart firmly on his sleeve and producing match-defining innings at regular intervals.
Pant, nearing 25, still continues his trail at the biggest stage, despite the many naysayers. For the just-concluded South Africa Twenty20s, he was made national captain for the first time when KL Rahul pulled out injured. While India bounced back from 2-0 down to level the series with convincing wins in the absence of top stars, Pant had a mediocre outing with scores of 29, 5, 6 and 17.
Dinesh Karthik, on the other hand, continued his stellar form with the willow. Karthik, another wicketkeeper-batter, scored 92 runs in the series including a match-winning 55, making a strong case for himself before this year’s T20 World Cup. For coach Rahul Dravid, Karthik and all-rounder Hardik Pandya are now the two ‘enforcers’ in the death overs. But does the pair ring a warning bell for Pant? With just four months remaining for the T20 showpiece event, will he face yet another litmus test?
In an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times, WV Raman, the former India women’s head coach, spoke on a range of topics including Pant’s leadership stint, the re-emergence of Karthik and Prithvi Shaw’s absence from the current T20 set-up.
How do you see Pant’s captaincy stint and the recent criticism? India have now got many wicketkeepers including Karthik for the World T20. Does that make life tougher for Pant?
I will concede the fact that it was a learning curve for Pant as a captain. That’s something which we all have to concede. He is a young man who has been absorbing a lot of pressure. He has delivered under pressure in Test matches, especially abroad. He has played some lovely innings to win games for India. But when you are leading a national side, you will be the centre of attraction. You will get a lot of attention.
People will praise as much as they criticise when you don’t live up to their expectations. Former and current India players are fortunate to have the kind of followers but that goes with the job. If you are the captain of the Indian side and things don’t go well, there will be criticism. Every cricketer understands this.
It’s good to have a healthy competition (on Karthik’s emergence). There was a time when India was struggling for keepers who can be good in front of the stumps as well. Now that India have got a lot of options who can be good on either side of the wicket, that’s a healthy situation and anyone would be happy about it.
What is your take on Prithvi Shaw’s omission from Ireland Twenty20s? Also, Shubman Gill is currently limited to the Test fold. Do you see him playing all three formats at the top level?
When somebody is left out, it means the team may have found certain aspects in his game which don’t really measure up to what they are looking at. When a player is omitted, the comeback trail is always a difficult phase. When you are young and broken into the side fresh, they would give you some time to ease into international cricket. If you falter, you can make amends. But if the team management or selectors think there are some areas that he needs to get better at, the comeback obviously becomes a bit difficult. Because you not only have to score runs but convince people that you have improved upon those aspects.
It’s going to be a little bit of a tough road but Prithvi is facing it when he is young. Age is on his side and this kind of reversal would really make him understand a lot of things. He will realize that he got a break when he was young and had a great patch to get into the Indian side. But he needs to keep that going and not take things for granted.
Players like Shubman and Prithvi are highly talented. They have been brought up in the current age where they play all formats of the game. They can adapt and go on to play all three formats at the biggest stage in the future. We saw Virat Kohli, who belongs to the earlier generation, doing it. Rohit Sharma has done it as well. There are quite a few cricketers on the list. As long as both Shubman and Prithvi keep working on their skills and stay fit, I don’t see any reason why they can’t play all three formats. Currently, Test cricket is also following the idea of getting runs quickly, with batters belonging to that style of play.
Hardik has been phenomenal since his return to competitive cricket. What role will he play along with leading the side in Ireland? How do you see Venkatesh Iyer’s position in the team after Hardik’s return?
What Hardik will perhaps do in Ireland depends a lot on what he’s been told by (Rahul) Dravid. The role which he has been given will dictate his decisions about the batting spot or his overs. The decision will be based on what he is likely to do for the Indian team in near future.
Upon selecting him (Venkatesh), the selectors might have said he could be useful in bowling a couple of overs. But one would not put Venkatesh as an all-rounder on the same pedestal as Hardik, who has got a different skill-set. Venkatesh has also got a different skill-set. Let’s not make comparisons between the two. Each one of them has its strengths. Each one of them has areas on which they need to focus upon. I don’t think we should make a choice here.
India went with an unchanged eleven for all five Twenty20s against South Africa. Do you think Umran Malik or Arshdeep Singh deserved a game or two?
Playing the same eleven in all five games isn’t a bad idea. It gives everybody a clear-cut idea of what’s going to happen and makes them feel secure, which was a good thing done by (Rahul) Dravid. But Ireland games are a good opportunity for both players. Get them in and give them a taste of what international cricket is all about. I would go on to the extent of saying that they will get a chance in the series.
Deepak Chahar’s injury lay-off has been a hot topic of debate lately. Do you think it’s a great chance for Harshal or Avesh in the run-up to World T20?
Without wanting to get into speculations, it’s a case of other guys getting the opportunity. If they end up using it extra-ordinarily well, selectors would be definitely happy about it. When you are getting into a World Cup, you need competition to be at its peak — firstly, in terms of the team getting picked and secondly, no player can take his place for granted. They will give their best working together and play out of their skins. It’s a good situation to have.
Watch the LIVE coverage of Ireland vs India – 1st & 2nd T20i on SONY SIX (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels on 26th & 28th June 2022 from 9:00 pm IST.