Birmingham: The hype around the much-awaited World Cup bow of Rishabh Pant ended against England on Sunday, albeit on a day when his guru Mahendra Singh Dhoni came under scrutiny again for going ‘slow’ as India slumped to their first defeat of the tournament.
The 21-year-old did not look out of place with his cameo effort of 32 runs off 29 deliveries, although the jury is out about whether he is equipped to handle the contentious No 4 spot for India.
It was a matter of time before Pant, who had taken over the responsibility behind the stumps in Tests and T20 Internationals for some time since ‘MSD’ had stepped aside from these roles, would have moved into the 50-overs format as well. The big break for Pant the batsman came when Shikhar Dhawan got injured, though the public opinion and media concern on the subject made it an almost a no-brainer for the selectors.
Coming into bat at the fall of skipper Virat Kohli’s wicket — and with the asking rate climbing in the chase of a mammoth target — Pant betrayed the early adrenalin rush and nearly got run out twice. He soon settled down to find the gaps and picked up four boundaries along the way, but Indian vice captain Rohit Sharma made a pertinent point in a lighter vein at the post-match press conference here.
Asked if it was prudent to send Pant ahead of an in-form Hardik Pandya at number four, Sharma said with his tongue firmly in his cheek: “It’s because you guys wanted to see him play that we sent him in.” On a more serious note, he added: “The idea was to let him have some time in the middle and assess the conditions. We all know what he can do with the bat, but we are expecting a lot from him. We should let him enjoy the game — he does well when he does that.”
The argument behind his place in the team purely as a batsman has enough merit — he is perceived as a rare match-winner for all his exploits in the white ball cricket (read: Indian Premier League) while he already has a Test century under his belt in England. However, the frenzy in social media and the memes once Pant’s name was announced in the playing XI would have added to the pressure of expectations on his young shoulders.
Speaking at a post-match chat show for a cricket website, Robin Uthappa, a former India batsman and a star for IPL outfit Kolkata Knight Riders, said: “It didn’t seem he was out of place. He has certainly begun well, but I would still like to see MS bat in that position for we know what he brings to the table.”
Zaheer Khan, a key member of India’s 2011 World Cup winning squad, wants to wait and watch before assessing how Pant would fit into the scheme of things. “We were told before the game that Vijay Shankar, who was playing in the number four spot before, has a toe niggle. We will hence have to wait and watch to find out if it was a forced change or otherwise,” said the erstwhile rock of Indian pace attack.
It’s beyond doubt that Pant is an extremely viable option to energise the Indian middle order — which is suddenly wearing a suspect look — at the business-end of the World Cup. However, it’s Rohit Sharma’s advice of letting him be which is crucial at this juncture.