Jitesh must rediscover his mojo amid Punjab batting meltdown

Jitesh is one of the contenders for the keeper’s slot. (Source: X.com)

Just three months ago, in January, Jitesh Sharma was considered the front-runner for the wicketkeeper’s spot in the Indian team for the T20 World Cup. With Rishabh Pant sidelined after a serious car accident, it became clear why the selectors had opted for Jitesh as India’s primary wicketkeeper. He possessed all the necessary skills – powerful striking ability, adept glovework, and, most importantly, game sense. He seemed like the ideal choice. Everything seemed to align in his favour, including his performance of 100 runs from nine T20Is at a strike-rate of 147.05. His forte lay in his capacity to hit the ball hard while batting in the middle order, as evidenced by his boundary every 4.5 deliveries even at the international level.

Fast forward to April, with the T20 World Cup selection looming, and criticism is mounting against Jitesh’s inclusion solely due to his recent poor form with the bat. The 2024 IPL has hit him hard. His fortunes have suddenly taken a turn for the worse.

Since his debut for India, Jitesh’s IPL numbers have seen a sharp decline, with just 128 runs this year at an average of only 16. His strike-rate of 125.49 is also a cause for concern. Among all the teams in this year’s competition, Punjab Kings are the only side with a top three averaging under 20. This is a reflection of their batting performance this season.

In contrast, players like Abdul Samad from Sunrisers Hyderabad have been able to make an impact with the bat because those above him in the order have provided a solid platform for him to launch an onslaught on the bowlers. The same is the case with other teams like KKR, CSK and RR. Jitesh is known as a finisher who can make an impact in just a few balls, but unfortunately, the Punjab batters have failed to provide him with the necessary platform. There’s nowhere to hide. Much like his PBKS teammates, Jitesh has batted poorly this season.

As we reach the halfway mark in the IPL, World Cup selection is looming, and contenders are battling it out for the same positions, including the wicketkeeper slot. If Jitesh can turn his form around and produce some impactful innings in the remaining games, he may still make the cut. The Vidarbha-based Jitesh typically bats in the middle to lower middle order and has the ability to take on bowlers from the first ball.

Yes, Pant is there and he’s batting well, but other than him, no one’s really there who could take Jitesh’s spot. Sanju Samson is batting at No. 3, while Ishan Kishan and KL Rahul are opening for their respective franchises. Not one of those three is likely to make the top-order cut. At best, they may be viewed as back-ups. The dark horse in the race is Dinesh Karthik, but the selectors are unlikely to go back to him.

Since 2022, Jitesh boasted a record that left other keepers envious. Over the course of two seasons, he accumulated 520 runs in 24 innings, maintaining an average just below 30. However, what truly set him apart were his exceptional performances at the death, boasting a strike-rate of 186.3. It was this prowess that caught the attention of the national selectors. He’s the same player, and it’s just a matter of one or two good innings for him to rediscover his mojo and make the squad.