Sports Cricket 18 Mar 2019 Many parallels betwe ...

Many parallels between Rishabh Pant & MS Dhoni

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | HEMANT KENKRE
Published Mar 18, 2019, 1:12 am IST
Updated Mar 18, 2019, 1:12 am IST
Rishabh Pant
 Rishabh Pant

Rishabh Pant is a fortunate man. The 21-year old Haridwar-born has two titans of Indian cricket — Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni — as mentors. His fortune lies in the fact that he can walk up to the two achievers and take tips from them at any time.

The last year has seen the southpaw morph from a batsman full of flash ’n dash to one who could put his head down and play responsible innings when needed.
His two Test centuries, 114 against England at the Oval and an unbeaten 159 at Sydney Cricket Ground, are testimony to his tremendous growth as a batsman who seems to have no fear of failure.

Pant’s heroics abroad made him the first Indian wicket-keeper to score hundreds in the mother countries of Test cricket and put to rest the speculation that he was more a shorter format cricketer.

Today, post the 2-3 loss to Australia in the ODI series, analysts and former cricketers are picking the squad they believe to be the best one for the World Cup.

With the premier tournament a few months away, two slots in the team; number four and number six are up for grabs. Skipper Kohli recently mentioned that the team has been sorted combination wise and that only one change can be expected in the playing eleven.

He did not, however, mention which position was up for discussion and one can safely assume it would be the number six spot for which two candidates; Pant and Dinesh Karthik. Having spoken about Pant’s explosive batting, the prospect of picking him as the reserve wicket-keeper is a bit frightening. His showing behind the stumps in the last two ODIs against Australia would not give his most die hard fans any confidence.

Pant’s luck (as far as the World Cup is concerned) runs out at this juncture. The sad part is his ability as a gloveman is being compared with that of Dhoni which is completely unfair to the young man.

Pant’s misses as a ’keeper in the fourth ODI against Australia, where he failed to stump Peter Handscomb and Ashton Turner, has started an unnecessary debate. This game was Pant’s debut as a wicket-keeper in ODIs.

It is a no brainer that Pant is a ‘work in progress’ at this stage of his career and has not impressed many with his show behind the stumps in ODIs and Test matches. The crowd reaction, shouting ‘Dhoni, Dhoni’ while the match was in progress must have put the young man in a deeper hole than he was after missing those chances. Later, and even as one writes this, comparisons with Dhoni have made his chances (in the public eye) of being part of the Indian squad for the Cup even more difficult.

For someone who has made his ODI debut not more than five months ago as a batsman and not a keeper, being compared with Dhoni who has played 90 Tests and 341 matches over a period of 14 years is odious. Public memory is short and there are many parallels between Pant and Dhoni.

Dhoni too started his career as a ‘batsman-wicket keeper’ and not the other way around and was often found wanting as a gloveman when compared with the ’keepers of the past like Nayan Mongia, Kiran More and Syed Kirmani.

It was the 148 runs that Dhoni scored against Pakistan at Visakhapatnam in 2005 that propelled him into the public eye and his shortcomings as a wicket keeper were swept under the carpet.

Fortunately, Dhoni did not have an established rival in the glove department as Mongia, probably the only classy keeper of that time continued to be ignored by the selectors. The populace were now enchanted by the young lad (with long locks) from Jharkhand who wooed them with his explosive batting especially the big hundred he scored against arch adversary, Pakistan.

It took many years for Dhoni to be accepted as a wicket keeper of stature, one accepted by the experts, in the shorter formats of the game.

Pant today is in a similar situation, like Dhoni was in late 2004, when he made his ODI debut. No matter how many bombs Pant can explode on the crease as a batsman, his wicket-keeping abilities will go against him to be picked to fly to the United Kingdom in May this year.

The World Cup is a tournament where experience is as important as form and that may be the reason why the selectors will not take a ‘punt’ on Pant and clear the way for Karthik.

Pant, though, is the future of Indian cricket and will get many more opportunities in the future provided he is guided well and nurtured with care.

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