Are Pant and Sanju final picks for T20 World Cup already?

Who will be India’s choice? (Image: IPL)

Rohit Sharma playfully sledged Dinesh Karthik during an IPL match between Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bengaluru on Thursday, suggesting that T20 World Cup selection was on the latter’s mind. “Dimaag mein chal raha hai World Cup (World Cup is on his mind),” Rohit quipped at Karthik. This holds true not just for Karthik, but for all wicketkeepers eyeing a berth.

Understanding the context of Rohit’s comment is crucial. The T20 World Cup squad will be selected in the last week of April. Picking two wicketkeepers for the trip to the USA and Caribbean islands is one of the toughest challenges faced by the selectors. Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson, Jitesh Sharma, Ishan Kishan, KL Rahul even Dinesh Karthik — there are as many as six in the race.

In the T20I series against Afghanistan at home in January, the selectors included Jitesh and Sanju in the squad. Neither did well in those three games. Jitesh aggregated 31 runs in two matches and Samson got a duck in his lone outing. So who should get the visa for the T20 World Cup?

“The Indian team has tried Karthik. He is in exceptional form, but he didn’t really do well in the last T20 World Cup. In my opinion, they have the right man for the job in Pant. I thought it would be difficult for him to come back, lead, bat, keep but boy, he has been phenomenal for Delhi Capitals. His white ball cricket has gone up,” former India all-rounder Irfan Pathan said at the Star Sports Press Room.

“The second keeper’s slot is going to give headaches to the selectors. Sanju has been brilliant, but he is playing top of the order like Kishan. There is a traffic jam up in the order for India. Rohit, Yashasvi (Jaiswal), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, you have so many players already. You would ideally want a keeper who can bat down the order. Jitesh is a pick. KL Rahul is there, but he is batting up the order. It would be great if he can bat down the order as well.”


Pant obvious first-choice if fit

Pant has surged to the top of the pecking order following his recovery from a career-threatening injury. He returned to competitive cricket in the IPL, 14 months after that car accident in December 2022. If he remains fit, Pant is certain to feature in the T20 World Cup squad. Despite his franchise’s underwhelming performance, their skipper has stood out with his keeping and batting, boasting scores of 18, 28, 51, 55, 1, and 41, at a strike rate of 157.72. Ability to win matches and adapt to various middle-order positions makes him a strong contender.

Will Dravid back Jitesh & continuity?

 Jitesh was a frontrunner for one of the spots before IPL 2024 started. However, since then, his stocks have plummeted. The Punjab Kings gloveman performed reasonably when given a chance for the Indian team, particularly as a finisher, one of the toughest jobs in cricket. The Vidarbha man has faced just 68 deliveries in seven innings, smashing 100 runs at a strike rate of 147.05. Despite the decline in form in IPL 2024, where he scored 106 runs in six games at a strike rate of 130, coach Rahul Dravid’s tendency to back players during rough patches could keep Jitesh in contention.

Kishan back in the race

Kishan made headlines for the wrong reasons before IPL 2024. However, he has strengthened his case substantially since. He is the second-highest scorer for MI with 184 runs from six matches at a blazing strike rate of around 180. Kishan has issues against spin. Although he has scored 46 runs in 23 deliveries against spinners in IPL 2024, Kishan has been dismissed twice in four innings by them. This could be a concern in the slower conditions in the Caribbean.

In 2023, Kishan had a strike rate of 133.1 against spinners (dot ball % of 39.4). In 2022, it was 127.6 (dot ball % of 24.4) and 97.3 (dot ball % of 42.3) in 2021. Though he has struck at 200 (dot ball % 17.4) against them in 2024, he has been dismissed twice by them. And, do India need more openers, with Rohit, Jaiswal, Gill and even Kohli available to do that job?


Timely runs from Sanju’s bat

Sanju has bolstered his case with three fifties in six games, scoring 264 runs at a strike rate of 155. However, his chances depend on consistency throughout the campaign, given his tendency to start strong and then fade gradually. He is currently the third-highest run-scorer in the IPL. After being repeatedly ignored by the selectors in major events, will Samson get a spot in the World Cup? Chances are high, given his experience and ability to play both pace and spin in the middle overs.

Middle-order needs reduce Rahul’s chances

Rahul is another player seeking a spot in the World Cup squad. However, his performance in IPL 2024 has not been remarkable, with 204 runs in six innings at a strike rate of 139. The Lucknow Super Giants skipper’s absence from the T20I setup for over 500 days and him playing as an opener in the IPL may reduce his prospects, especially considering India’s middle-order requirements.

Will it be DK? Looks unlikely

Karthik, despite nearing 39, has played impactful cameos for RCB, scoring 143 runs in five innings at a thunderous strike rate of 190. His experience and ability to provide something different could be valuable, although his disappointing showing in the 2022 T20 World Cup, where he managed just 14 runs in four outings, might raise doubts. He was dropped from the XI after those matches, making way for Pant. Will the selectors go back to DK again? Highly unlikely.

India’s wicketkeeping dilemma presents a fascinating subplot in the drama that will unfold in the run-up to the T20 World Cup. The two making the cut will have eyeballs on them throughout the tournament for sure.