Mumbai: With India’s young wicket-keeper, Rishabh Pant getting injured, the team has found a perfect replacement for Pant in Kannur Lokesh (KL) Rahul. Since the 2019-20 home ODI series against Australia, KL Rahul has performed brilliantly well with the bat and gloves in the limited-overs format.
After Pant suffered a concussion during the first ODI match against Australia in the recently concluded three rubber series, which India won 2-1 earlier this year, KL kept behind the stumps. Lokesh’s ability to take up multiple roles has allowed India to play extra two batsmen, hence giving the batting order more balance
During the first ODI games versus Australia, Rahul took dual roles, when he affected a dismissal and also played a match-winning knock of 80 in the same game.
After the match, Indian captain Virat Kohli went on to praise the KXIP batsman and said, “Rahul really brings in a good balance to keep that well and bat that well in that position. It’s just that he’s come into that slot and has done well. We’ll have to persist with that a little bit and see where that takes us and not necessarily be confused about the other options that we have. I think lack of clarity in terms of positions in the past has really hurt us.”
Moreover, Kohli also stated, “Now that we understand that this team is right, we’re going to go ahead with that for a while and figure out whether this is the right team or not. We can’t chop and change immediately and create confusion within the group. We’re playing well, unchanged team, and we did the job again. Two wins back to back… I don’t see any reason why we should change this balance as it has done well.”
Lastly, the Indian skipper also compared Rahul to former batsman, Rahul Dravid who occasionally used to keep wickets for India from 1999-2004. Comparing the legend with the Karnataka batsman, the skipper said, “It definitely allows us to play an extra batsman which strengthens our batting massively.
That is a very important factor as far as the team balance is concerned. If you look at the 2003 World Cup where Rahul bhai started keeping, the balance became different because you could play an extra batter and guys at the top could really play positive cricket.”
The KXIP batsman’s incredible work with the bat and gloves has kept Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson out of the squad. Along with that, the 27-year-old’s place in the T20I World Cup may also have been cemented, especially, after having produced several match winning knocks of 62, 57, 56, 91, 45, 45 and 54.
The right-handed player himself also admitted that he is enjoying the dual role. "I'm quite honestly loving it. At the international stage, it might seem very new and it might seem like I've never kept. (But) I've kept for my IPL franchise for the last 3-4 years, and I've kept for my first-class team as and when there is an opening.
I've still stayed in touch with wicket keeping. I enjoy staying behind the stumps and it also gives me a great idea about how the pitch is playing, and I can pass on that message to the bowlers and the captains with field-sets and everything.
As a keeper, that's also your responsibility to stay active and pass the message on to your captain as to what lengths are better and what I feel we can do better. As a batsman as well, after keeping for 20 overs, especially you get a fair idea on what are the good shots on this kind of wicket and so I'm enjoying the responsibility and so far so good for me," expressed KL.
As for Pant, he may have to perform with the bat as well as with the gloves, provided if he’s given a chance. With Rahul performing so well, Pant’s chance to play in the playing XI looks slim. Moreover, the 21-year-old’s glove and bat work is frequently inconsistent.
Coming to Sanju Samson, just like Risabh Pant, the 26-year-old batsman could also be a reserve wicket-keeper batsman for India. The Kerala batsman has done good job with the bat and the glove to get a chance in the playing squad. Although, so far, the Indian cricketer has squandered all the chances, that were given to him.
Till now, from four games, the right-handed failed to put any impressive displays. In four matches, the players could only amass 35 runs at a substandard average of 8.75.
In comparison with Rishabh, the south Indian player’s profile looks duller than inconsistent Pant, who notched up 410 runs from 28 games, including two fifties.
However, both the players have to wait for their chances to feature in the playing XI unless KL, Rohit, Virat or Iyer get injured.
With the T20I World Cup is just months away, India already may have sorted the top seven batsmen. The top four slots are already sealed by Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Shreyas Iyer, while the remaining three places will go to Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube and Manish Pandey.
Recently, India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour has stated that he has already found what the final T20I team will look like. "Adjustments will keep going on till the last minute. But as far as I am concerned and the team management is concerned, we have the core. We know what our team is going to be. Unless there is a case of injury or really bad loss in form, I don't see many changes happening," Rathour said.
He further added that KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer have become indispensable match winners of the squad, indicating that KL and Iyer’s spot have been sealed.
"The more opportunities that these guys get, they are showing that they are capable. They are showing that they are match-winners on their day. That will help the team, of course, but it will also help their confidence. Having seen KL (Rahul) and Shreyas as young cricketers coming through, in my mind, I have absolutely no doubt that they are match-winners. They are getting their opportunities now and they are showing the world what they are capable of, that is great to see," Rathour stated.
Shivam Dubey and Manish Pandey have also impressed the selectors by smashing a 50 each. With both of them having hit 50s each, the selectors might persist with them in the starting XI. However, the upcoming Indian Premier League will be the final decider of who are going to play the T20I World Cup.
The IPL will serve as the best platform for Shivam Dube, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson to come up with dazzling show and seal their spot in the 15-member T20I World Cup.
Having said all these, it is now evident that KL Rahul is way ahead of Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson in terms of who is going to be the final wicket-keeper batsman for India in the 2020 T20I World Cup.