In normal times, Rishabh Pant would have mostly had a go at the new ball operators and set the scoreboard ticking at a brisk pace and make his teammates in the dressing room or the dugout, and those who spend some bucks to watch him hit out, thrilled and excited.
Rarely has the enterprising left-hander from Delhi has been pinned down by bowlers of any ilk and in any form of the game. A fearless batter who loves a challenge was kept quiet by the West Indies speedsters in Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach and Odean Smith in the second one-day international at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Wednesday.
On an eventful day when the India Under-19 World Cup team was in attendance to watch their star seniors in action, the daredevil swinger of the bat was the partner skipper Rohit Sharma chose to open the innings once the rival captain had made the decision to unleash his fast men who together had 334 scalps to show for.
After winning the first ODI hands down, Sharma was compelled to make one change in order to allot a slot to his deputy KL Rahul, who was not available for the first match. In the absence of Sharma for the South African series, Rahul was the captain, and he had opened the innings with Shikhar Dhawan who went into quarantine catching the Covid bug a few days before the start of the series in Ahmedabad.
Sharma began the proceedings in the first ODI with another bright talent in Ishan Kishan, who paved the way for Rahul’s return. It should have been a straight swap at the top order, but Sharma who had expressed thoughts of willing to make changes after the first match was prepared to gamble by going out with Pant.
This was clearly meant to prolong the left-right combination in place to counter the new ball from both ends and when only two fielders are allowed outside the inner ring.
The Sharma and Dhawan pair at the top has delivered 4978 runs in 110 innings over a period of nine years and it’s a no brainier that the current full time India captain is keen to keep the partnership going till the next World Cup in India in 2023. But he is also thinking of a back-up because Dhawan will be close to 38 when the ICC event arrives.
And so Sharma is making the most of the current series and the situation has offered him to try out the likes of Kishan and Pant at the top, which is also an indicator that he believes that India will be better served in the middle order by the Karnataka right-hander Rahul who has also excelled at the top of the order.
Opening for India for the first time in 23 appearances in an ODI, Pant spent nine minutes short of an hour to make 18 off 34 balls. He hit two firm shots when Joseph and Smith invited him to bring his attacking instincts into play. It was of the 17th ball that he drew courage to go for a big shot that fetched four runs.
Pant may not open anytime soon because Sharma has revealed that Dhawan will be back for the third and final match on Friday. Sharma also said Pant is not likely to be a permanent solution. The India captain also revealed that he has been asked to do different things which is also a thought going on in the selectors’ mind that India should search for another batter who can fit the bill at the top to replace the aging Dhawan.
With the emphasis on white ball cricket in the present times, the BCCI and the selection committee are having conversations with Sharma on the way forward till November 2023 when India is scheduled to host the quadrennial ICC event.
The injury to off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has also elicited a move from the selectors to trial both Washington Sundar and Deepak Hooda. Both bowl off breaks and are specialist batters. It is quite possible that these two will be given maximum chances in the matches leading to the World Cup that India won in 1983 and 2011 and was a finalist in 2003.
India is scheduled to play white ball series against Sri Lanka and South Africa at home after the present engagements with the West Indies s before a full white ball series in England after the Edgbaston Test that will complete last year’s five Test series.
Prompted and encouraged by the BCCI and selectors, one may see Sharma carrying a out of changes in the ODI team. Fast bowler Prasidh Krishna is being groomed, and it has to be seen if rookie leg spinner Ravi Bishnoi will make his debut at the expense of Yuzvendra Chahal who has picked up five wickets in two matches here. Bishnoi has taken 24 wickets in 23 IPL matches over the two immediate past IPL seasons, and he may be ripe for a look into the ODI format.
Sharma is keen to give breaks and more opportunities for the players on the fringe and established batters and bowlers for them to get adequate exposure against different oppositons in the next 20 months. The test run has already begun with two left-handers — Kishan and Pant — being asked to open the innings.
Openers have a specific role to play in the starting powerplay overs and Sharma is likely to bring these two into play should the situation demand. One thing looks certain thougj that Sharma will back a left-handed opening partner. After all he and Dhawan are the most successful opening pair after Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly (6610 runs in 136 innings). The left-right pair make it a real task for the best bowlers in business.