Two years ago Rishabh Pant was one of the hottest properties in Indian cricket. His heroics in the ICC U19 World Cup for the Indian colts saw IPL outfit Delhi Daredevils fork out a whopping sum of Rupees 19 million (Dh108,000) for the young wicketkeeper-batsman during 2016.
The southpaw’s ability to clear the fence regularly with gutso and penchant is what has brought him many admirers in the Indian cricket community.
After a terrific domestic season with the bat during 2016-17 where he scored a triple-hundred against Maharashtra in the Ranji trophy and a 48-ball ton against Jharkhand, Pant was handed his maiden India cap in a T20I against England at Bengaluru.
He did not get much of a chance to showcase his ability in that match, getting to face only three deliveries for an unbeaten knock of five runs. He was however picked again for the T20s when India toured the West Indies in July last year and played a sole match in Kingston.
On that day, Pant managed to score a 35-ball 38, a far cry from the explosive tag he carried with him. It was simply a case of him trying too hard to smash every ball out of the ground. That desperation perhaps, is a by-product of his reputation of being a big and clean hitter of the ball.
It is almost as if Pant has to justify that tag whenever he puts on the Blues of India. Following the T20I against the West Indies, the Delhi-based youngster did not get any more games for the national side until the ongoing Nidahas T20 tri-series in Sri Lanka.
There too, in the opening match against the hosts, Pant flattered to deceive. With Shikhar Dhawan giving India a solid platform to launch off from in the death overs, the 20-year-old struggled to find a clean connection as he looked to launch each and every ball out of the ground.
His struggles at one end forced Dhawan to up the ante himself and the opener paid the price with his wicket. Pant on the other hand, scored a run-a-ball 23 despite collecting a six and a boundary as India lost their way a little towards the death overs.
With MS Dhoni all but confirmed to be India’s wicket-keeping option in the 2019 ICC World Cup, there is no real rush for Pant to force himself into contention. His time will come, for he has been clearly earmarked by the board as one for the future.
That is why he is being tried out in the odd T20 match here and there, so that come 2019, he is ready to take over the mantle from the veteran stalwart.
The talent is clearly there, as evidenced by his 32-ball hundred against Himachal Pradesh in January, the second-fastest T20 ton in history and the fastest by an Indian.
The question for Pant therefore is, why the hurry? Maybe it is time the youngster stopped putting so much pressure on himself to perform and let his natural talent do the talking.
His time with the Indian senior team will come. For now, he needs to start enjoying the game and the boundaries will flow again.
India’s tour of South Africa was the first big test for Virat Kohli’s men as they looked to prove their overseas credentials in 2018. After sweeping aside all that came before them at home on their way to the top of the Test rankings, the focus shifted to India’s first major overseas trip before tours of England and Australia later in the year.
They got off to a poor start with defeat in the first Test in Cape Town. When another defeat in Centurion followed that ended all hopes of a series win, the familiar feeling of doom and gloom – as has been the case in many previous overseas tours – surfaced.
Kohli’s selection policies came under fire as the exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane in favour of Rohit Sharma stuck out like a sore thumb. When Bhuvneshwar Kumar was dropped for the second Test, it seemed that Kohli had well and truly lost the plot.
Then came the victory in the final Test on a menacing track at the Wanderers and things started to look up again. Rahane and Bhuvneshwar both played important hands in that win, leading to even more questions about the previous selection policy.
With the tour now over after the completion of the ODIs and T20I series which India won, one can understand importance of the final Test win. The most impressive part of India’s performance – eight wins and four defeats overall – was the manner in which they were attained. Right from the very first ODI, India played a fearless and ruthless brand of cricket, a brand you would associate with the Australian sides of the early 2000s.
A maiden 50-over series win in South Africa was secured – by a margin of 5-1 – followed by a 2-1 triumph in the T20I series. India looked at home and it was the hosts who looked more like a touring side struggling to keep up.
The biggest factor that made India competitive, both in the Tests and the limited-overs clashes, was a world-class bowling unit, something the side has lacked for long.
Pacers were impressive in the red-ball format, while wrist-spinners grabbed the headlines in the white-ball matches. It was refreshing to see the Indians dismiss South Africa six times in as many innings in the Tests, a feat that deserves special praise.
With Virat Kohli at the peak of his powers and a bowling unit capable of thriving in almost any condition, India will fancy their chances of reaching greater heights when they travel to England and Australia later this year.
The shambolic loss at the hands of the arch-rivals spurred a wind of change for Virat Kohli’s team India. The skipper and team management had made up their minds – the era of finger spinners had come to an end as wrist-spinners began to rule the roost.
The likes of England’s Adil Rashid, Pakistan’s Shadab Khan and South Africa’s Imran Tahir had all finished ahead of Jadeja and Ashwin in the wicket-taking column for the global tournament. Jadeja picked up four wickets at the tournament at an average of over 62 while Ashwin’s sole wicket came at a painful average of 167.
So when India toured the West Indies after the Champions Trophy, the senior duo were dispensed of for the limited-overs clash with young Kuldeep Yadav being thrown into the deep end. The youngster performed more than admirably on the tour, picking up eight wickets in the four matches.
Since then, it has been Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal who have become India’s two mainstay spinners in the format as series wins over Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand followed. The new wrist-spin twins are currently tearing it up on the hard surfaces of South Africa with 13 wickets them after the opening two ODIs.
In 19 ODIs so far, Chahal has picked up 34 wickets at an average of 21.88 and a strike-rate of 28.8. Similarly, Kuldeep has picked up 28 wickets at an average of 21.30 and a strike-rate of 27.3.
In comparison, Ashwin averages around 33 with a strike-rate of 40 after 111 matches while Jadeja averages 36 with a strike-rate nearing 44 after 136 matches.
The difference is crystal clear, India’s current spin pair are a more attacking outlet than the senior duo when it comes to taking wickets. Not only are the two wrist-spinners a far greater wicket-taking threat, they are also more economical than their senior counterparts.
With the wrist-spin duo only going from strength to strength, it seems the end of the road for Ashwin’s and Jadeja’s limited-overs career is near. The former is reportedly working on his leg-spin for the upcoming IPL, a sign of the times if one was ever needed.