Pant certain, but who will be the second ’keeper for T20 World Cup?

From Left: Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Sanju Samson, Dinesh Karthik. Source: IPL Website

Dinesh Karthik aspires to play at the upcoming T20 World Cup. Only a few days ago, he spoke about being “100 per cent ready” for the ICC event. “At this stage in my life, it would be the greatest feeling for me to represent India. I’m very, very keen to do so. There’s nothing bigger in my life other than representing India in this T20 World Cup,” the 38-year-old wicketkeeper-batter told reporters.

Karthik has the numbers to back his wish. In eight matches in IPL 2024, he has scored 251 runs for Royal Challengers Bengaluru at a strike-rate of 196.09. He is one of the few positives in RCB’s belly-up campaign this term. But the mistake of 2022 is unlikely to be repeated.

Two years ago, Karthik had a stellar IPL, scoring 330 runs in 16 matches at a strike-rate of 183.33. He was picked for the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia, where he struggled badly — 14 runs in three innings at a strike-rate of 63.63.

Dinesh Karthik. Source: IPL

International cricket is a different ball game and the Ajit Agarkar-led selection committee is averse to taking regressive steps, across formats. They didn’t bring back Cheteshwar Pujara or Ajinkya Rahane after Virat Kohli pulled out of the home Test series against England. They aren’t going to recall Karthik for the T20 World Cup in the US and the Caribbean either.

This basically narrows down the list to four players, those who are in the reckoning to make the T20 World Cup cut. RevSportz understands that Rishabh Pant would be the first choice if he stays fit to manage the workload of a strenuous — match fatigue plus travel — multi-nation tournament on the heels of a rigorous IPL.

Pant hasn’t exactly set the stadiums alight with his batting — he has three half-centuries, including an 88 not out off 43 balls — in this IPL, but he is a proven performer at the highest level and has the pedigree of an elite player. The question is about picking his back-up.

Rishabh Pant. Source: IPL

Only a couple of days ago, former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh made an interesting observation on his X handle that Sanju Samson should walk into the Indian team for the T20 World Cup. He went a step further and asked the Indian cricket hierarchy to groom the Rajasthan Royals captain as India’s next T20 skipper. Sanju has been in excellent form this IPL, with 314 runs in eight matches at a strike-rate of 152.42. He has his fan brigade and some experts like Harbhajan to back his claim. But does he fit the bill?

India’s top-order picks itself and at the T20 World Cup, the team will need a ’keeper-batter who can bat at the back-end of the innings. Sanju comes in at No. 3 for Royals. In the Indian team also, whenever he has played, he batted either at No. 4 or 5. Can he be considered as a back-end finisher? Unlikely. Also, a tally of 374 runs at a strike-rate of 133.09 in 25 T20Is attests Sanju’s failure to bridge the gap between IPL and international cricket. Yes, he hasn’t got a run of games at a stretch, but given the competition in the Indian team for that spot, that is a luxury.

International bowling attacks hardly offer any weak links, a la the IPL, when it comes to top teams. Sanju’s last T20I was against Afghanistan in Bengaluru earlier this year, where he perished for a golden duck, coming at No. 5.

KL Rahul was dropped for that series against Afghanistan. But a batter of his class has to be in conversation ahead of a World Cup. Rahul opens the batting for Lucknow Super Giants in IPL, but can he be picked as a reserve opener for the T20 World Cup, at the expense of Shubman Gill? Rahul’s strike-rate of 139.12 in T20Is remains an issue. Also, with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in the top-order, Rahul’s presence could be one conventional batter too many.

KL Rahul: Source: IPL

Rahul batted at No. 5 in last year’s 50-over World Cup and he was vilified for his 107-ball 66 in the final. But the 32-year-old had a very good World Cup otherwise, scoring 452 runs in 11 matches. Also, he is one player who has centuries in all three formats — two in T20Is. Is he a good choice at No. 5 or 6 in T20 cricket? Purely in terms of batsmanship, Rahul inspires greater confidence than his competitors, against quality attacks and in pressure situations.

As regards to Jitesh Sharma, he is having a poor IPL, with just 128 runs from eight matches at a strike-rate of 125.49. But the Indian team management has invested in him over the last one year. Jitesh is one player who excels in death-overs when in form. Will his IPL slide negatively influence his T20 World Cup selection? The selectors will have to decide.

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