How Pant went from back-up to India’s Stokes | Daily News

How Pant went from back-up to India’s Stokes

Rishabh Pant
Rishabh Pant

Rishabh Pant was left out of India's side for the first Test against Australia but finished the series as one of their star performers. Can he do it again against England? And will his wicket-keeping skills be up to scratch against spin?

Rishabh Pant has experienced all kinds of emotions already in 2021. Left out of the India side for the first Test against Australia, the 23-year-old wicket-keeper turned out to be the star of the series with two match-defining innings that helped secure a memorable series win.

His 97 in the second innings of the third Test and unbeaten 89 to help clinch victory in the fourth should ensure that he keeps his place - and the gloves - when India face England in a four-Test series at home.

That was far from assured a month ago. Pant hasn't played a home Test for India since 2018, with 36-year-old Wriddhiman Saha preferred because of his superior skills behind the stumps.

Even in Australia, Pant's credentials as wicketkeeper were called into question, particularly after he dropped opener Will Pucovski twice on the first day of the third Test.

"The knock on Rishabh is always going to be on his keeping," said former Australia Captain Ricky Ponting, who worked with Pant in the Indian Premier League.

The missed chances off Pucovski saw Pant's average rise to 0.86 dropped catches per Test played.

He has also dropped more catches than any other keeper (to have played at least 10 matches) since the start of 2018.

But Saha has given his backing to Pant and says he is improving.

"No one learns algebra in class. You always go step by step. He is giving his best and will definitely improve. He has matured and proved himself. In the long run, it augurs well for the Indian team."

The looming problem for Pant is that most of his troubles behind the stumps have been with spin. CricViz Analyst revealed during the third Test against Australia that Pant's catch success percentage in Tests is 93 per cent against pace and 56 per cent against spin.

That is partly why he has only played two of his 16 Tests in India.

But then there's the trade-off with his batting.

Are a couple of dropped catches worth it if they are accompanied by a match-changing knock? While his keeping was criticised in Australia, his batting earned plenty of plaudits.

Australia Coach Justin Langer described Pant as "fearless" for his heroics in the fourth Test and said it "reminded me of Ben Stokes' innings at Headingley".

Former England Captain Michael Vaughan also compared Pant to England all-rounder Stokes and former India opener Virender Sehwag.

"He is up there with Ben Stokes as the most enjoyable cricketers to watch. When Pant goes out to bat, I watch. I would not want to be next in because you know things will happen. But if he continues to play the game with the joy and energy he has at the moment as if he is still an 11-year-old then he will pose so many challenges to the opposing team.”