Former opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar believes the time has come for Indian cricket to look beyond MS Dhoni even as the debate over the veteran’s future rages on.
Dhoni’s international future has been subject to intense speculation since the completion of the 2019 World Cup in England with the wicketkeeper-batsman subsequently making himself ‘unavailable’ for the tour of West Indies and the ongoing home series against South Africa.
With Dhoni absent from the picture, India’s selectors have opted to groom young Rishabh Pant in the wicketkeeping role across all three formats. However, the youngster has failed to grab his chances so far in the limited-overs formats with his erratic shot-selection earning him the ire of the team management in recent times.
Despite Pant’s current woes, Gavaskar feels India have to look beyond MS Dhoni with regards to the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia.
“No, we need to look beyond. Mahendra Singh Dhoni at least doesn’t figure in my team. If you are talking about the T20 World Cup, I will certainly think about Rishabh Pant,” Gavaskar told Aaj Tak when asked if the veteran should be picked for the tour of Bangladesh to come later.
“If I need to have an alternate option, then I will think of Sanju Samson because Sanju is a good ‘keeper as well as a good batsman.
“If I have to think of the T20 World Cup, I would think about youth as we need to look forward. Dhoni has made great contribution to Indian cricket but it’s now time to look beyond him.”
38-year-old Dhoni is yet to drop any hints about his international future while skipper Virat Kohli has recently stated that the veteran is a valuable asset to the team as long as he is ‘available’.
It has been two T20 series in a row now that India have opted against including Kuldeep Yadav in their squad but the young wrist-spinner is not too worried just yet.
The 24-year-old, along with fellow wrist-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, has been a near permanent fixture in India’s limited-overs squad since the conclusion of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy in England but has been overlooked for selection in the recent clashes against West Indies and now South Africa.
Despite the setback, Kuldeep is now looking to use his recent T20 omissions as an opportunity to focus on Test cricket.
“So far, I have done a good job in the limited-overs format. I feel very comfortable with the white ball,” the youngster was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.
“I am not worried about not being picked for the last two T20I series. Maybe the selectors felt I needed a break. Maybe the team thinks some changes are required.
“I respect that, and I have no complaints. I see this as an opportunity to do well in Tests.”
Kuldeep has so far made six Test appearances for India since making his debut in in 2017 and the spinner will hope to get more chances in the upcoming three-match series against South Africa.
He is taking confidence from his most recent red-ball display which saw him claim a four-wicket haul in the just concluded unofficial Test between India ‘A’ and South Africa ‘A’.
“It’s hard to play red-ball cricket when you aren’t consistently playing that format,” Kuldeep stated.
“If you aren’t a regular in this format, it takes time to get into your rhythm. When you are consistently playing limited-overs and suddenly switch to Tests without much preparation, it will be tough to excel.
“You need to bowl long spells, play practice games, to understand field placements and to know how to pick wickets. It was important for me to come here (India A game) and bowl as many overs as possible. There is still plenty of work to do.”
The first Test between India and South Africa at Visakhapatnam will get underway on October 2.
The hosts hold a 1-0 lead in the three-match series following their thumping seven-wicket win in the second T20 at Mohali while the first clash at Dharamsala was abandoned without a ball being bowled due to rain.
For the Proteas, it will be a chance to bounce back and level the series before the two teams turn their attentions to the upcoming Test clashes.
Focus still on inconsistent Pant for India
While India will be happy with the form they have shown since their World Cup semi-final exit, the pressure continues to grow on young Rishabh Pant after a spate of inconsistent displays. With veteran MS Dhoni out of the equation for now, Pant has been donning the gloves for India in all three formats. However, his returns with the bat, especially in white-ball cricket, have been disappointing to say the least.
Skipper Virat Kohli, coach Ravi Shastri and batting coach Vikram Rathour have all urged Pant to buck up his game in recent days and the youngster will have to heed that warning quickly with other wicketkeeepers also waiting in the fray.
“I have already said that post World Cup we have been concentrating on the progress of Rishabh. We need to be patient with him, considering the immense talent that he possesses,” chief selector MSK Prasad told the Indian Express on his part.
“We are monitoring the workload of Rishabh. Of course, we have been grooming backups across all formats. We have the young K.S. Bharath doing well in the longer format for India ‘A’. We also have Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson doing well in the shorter formats for India ‘A’ and domestic cricket.”
Pant’s talent has never been in question but the 21-year-old will need to walk a fine line between fearless and careless cricket if he is to keep his place behind the stumps.
New look Proteas look for inspiration
It is very much a new look South Africa T20 squad in India after a disappointing World Cup campaign which also proved to be the international swansong for several stalwarts. The likes of Hashim Amla, Imran Tahir and JP Duminy have brought the curtains down on their Proteas career and the onus is now very much on the next generation to step up.
Stand-in skipper Quinton de Kock will want to extract the maximum out of the current options at his disposal which includes leg-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi. The 29-year-old has been handed the spin responsibilities in the wake of Tahir’s retirement and he is taking confidence from his IPL stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore ahead of the clash at the Chinnasway stadium.
“Definitely, it helps when you are around speaking to world-class players like Virat, Gayle and Shane Watson,” Shamsi told the Indian Express ahead of the game.
“The world of cricket is shrinking in the sense that everyone is ready to share knowledge.
“You will find senior South African fast bowlers imparting knowledge to Indian fast bowlers and vice-versa. Being familiar with surroundings while playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore will certainly help.”
Shamsi’s confidence was echoed by batsman Temba Bavuma who feels India are very much a beatable side.
“They (India) are a formidable team but I don’t think they are an unbeatable side,” said Bavuma.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Krunal Pandya, Washington Sundar, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini.
South Africa: Reeza Hendricks, Quinton de Kock (c and wk), Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Bjorn Fortuin, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi.