Less than two days remain for the third Test between England and India to get underway and all the signs point towards young Rishabh Pant being handed the wicketkeeping gloves for the visitors at Trent Bridge.
Things had been looking up of late for Karthik as his heroic showings in the Nidahas T20 tri-series in Sri Lanka along with injury troubles for Wriddhiman Saha paved the way for his return to the Test squad after a gap of more than eight years.
His first innings in the five-day format since 2010 fetched him only four runs in Afghanistan’s inaugural Test but Saha’s long-term injury meant that Karthik was on the plane to England as first-choice wicketkeeper.
What has followed though in England, does not make pretty reading for the 33-year-old. Scores of 0, 20, 1 and 0 have ensued from the bat of Karthik while his glove work behind the stumps has almost bordered on the amateur.
Criticism have been directed at Karthik from many quarters but perhaps none of them have been as scathing as former skipper Sourav Ganguly’s.
“I think Rishabh Pant has to come into this side as Dinesh Karthik looks woefully out-of-form. I saw him (Karthik) in the nets and he couldn’t put bat to ball. I think a left-hander in the side will help the team and Pant isn’t scarred by India’s losses and he is also capable of changing the course of a game,” Ganguly said on Sky Sports following India’s innings loss at Lord’s in the second Test.
Karthik has not been the only Indian batsmen to have failed miserably in the Test series so far but given the fact that 20-year-old Pant has been breathing down his neck with some fine performances for India ‘A’ in their recent shadow tour of England, his position seems to be the most untenable of the lot.
Pant’s breakthrough came with a stupendous IPL campaign for the Delhi Daredevils where he blitzed 684 runs in 14 innings at an average greater than 35 and a strike-rate near 163.
While his game seems more suited to the limited-overs formats, he has since given ample evidence that he has what it takes to succeed at red-ball cricket.
In the two first-class matches that India ‘A’ played on their tour of England, Pant registered three half-centuries in his four innings including two against an England Lions attack containing the likes of Sam Curran and Jamie Porter.
His ability to translate his limited-overs form to first class cricket earned him glowing praise from India ‘A’ coach Rahul Dravid.
“Rishabh has shown he could bat differently. He has the temperament and skills to bat differently,” said Dravid. “He is always going to be an attacking player, but reading of the situation when one is playing red-ball cricket is required. We are glad he has been picked in the national team and I hope he takes this maturity and builds thereon,” Dravid had told ESPNCricinfo upon the completion of the tour.
At his age, Karthik was never going to be a long-term solution to India’s wicketkeeping hopes and when Saha does inevitably return, it will not be a surprise to see the Tamil Nadu man drop down the pecking order.
Given India’s extreme batting frailties at the moment, a quick-fire 50 from Pant batting at number seven could be gold dust for Virat Kohli and his men.
Such are the dire straits that India currently are in at the moment that a left-field move like bringing in Pant seems like the only viable solution to mend the batting woes.
It would be a tad unfair on Karthik given no other batsmen apart from Kohli have covered themselves in glory but Pant’s unorthodox approach to batting might just be the remedy to India’s current ailments.
Conventional Test batsmen like Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have hardly been pulling up trees against the moving Duke ball. It might be time for India to finally throw caution to the wind as they look to salvage the series at Trent Bridge.
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