There is a lot of media pressure on the Indian cricket team management to drop Vijay Shankar and play Rishabh Pant. People on social media (generally the lowest denominator of quality discussions) have gone berserk creating one mocking meme after another, one harsh tweet after another .. on Shankar. The guy hasn’t set the World Cup alight, but not done too much wrong either. Personally, am certain a Dinesh Karthik is ahead of Pant in the queue, but since the public demand is for Pant, let’s do a scenarios based check of Shankar vs Pant.
A) If Pant gets three games and is a hit, he will then play in the semi-final and India will be in great shape.
B) But if Pant flops or is average over the next three games, what does the team management do?
They will be left with
– Either field an average or flop Pant in the knockout game or be forced to get back Shankar for his all-round virtues.
– When Bhuvneshwar Kumar limped off early vs Pakistan and we thought Pak have a chance in the game, Shankar gave India the breakthrough. The World Cup is a long and arduous tournament; Mohd Shami has fitness issues often and in any case, any bowler breaking down cannot be ruled out.. in the semifinal game!
– So if Shankar is played in semis, then India would have lost the chance to play him in the last three games and get him more acclimatized. He has been picked on merit and this is his first England tour. He deserves a long rope. How long a rope, in a World Cup, is the debate all about.
What works for Pant
1. Rishabh is a big stage player. His best performances come when the stage is big. Be it in test matches in England or at Australia. Be it in early stages of the IPL … do note his performances fell in IPL2019 after the World Cup squad was announced. He may have a suspect temperament and with KL Rahul, we are aware that it takes years to fine tune that temperament to the level it is required to be part of the World’s best team.
2. Pant played a few promising innings vs the English bowlers last year, in test matches, in England. Hence him being fielded in the upcoming match vs England is a very tempting prospect.
3. Pant is a left-handed batsman and the Indian team doesn’t have a single top order southpaw in the squad.
4. If Pant fires, it will take India to the next level, undoubtedly.
5. With English pitches expected to get slower and assist spin, as summer temperatures rise, and since Kedar Jadhav is in the XI, its likely Kedar will be the 6th bowler and not Shankar. Vijay, in fact, hasn’t bowled a ball in the last two games. So tagging Shankar as the all-rounder for the upcoming games need to come with a question – is this all-rounder going to bowl?
What works against Pant
1. Pant hasn’t yet done anything in ODIs worth breaking a winning combination in the midst of the World Cup. In fact Shankar’s ODI averages are better than Pant’s (31 vs 23), although the latter boasts a superior strike rate (93 vs 131).
2. As the pitches change nature (note how the average batting first scores have drastically dropped over the last two weeks), batsmen with better technique and who can graft runs are more needed at the crucial number 4 position; than an outright aggressive hitter.
3. Pant lacks the big stage experience and calmness (ask MSD the importance of these two virtues) and often has the tendency to play for himself, go for the glory shot or run out partners. Including him on promise has a more ‘gamble’ element attached to it than any ‘data based theory’.
What is likely to happen
– I strongly feel Shankar will start vs England. All the batsmen who disappointed vs Afghanistan, shone vs the Windies – Rahul, Pandya & Dhoni. Hence it cannot be ruled out that it’s a matter of time before Shankar shines.
– The Indian team management is known to back players and not chop / drop / dump at the drop of a hat. This is a legacy started by Sourav Ganguly, around the turn of the century, and continued by subsequent captains. It helps the playing members feel secured and always play for the team, than for their own places. This is the same reason I feel Karthik is ahead of Rishabh in the queue. The team management believe in consistency in process, in merit and in order.
– While Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri often come up with an odd surprise selection, their backing of players whom they strongly believe in, is often solid. Two years ago, no one would have dreamt Bumrah, Chahal, Kuldeep and Pandya, not only playing World Cup 2019, but also forming the best bowling attack of the tournament.
Vijay Shankar will start vs England.