Ind vs. SA T20Is, 2022


Ind vs. SA T20Is, 2022

The way an ecstatic Keshav Maharaj ran towards Temba Bavuma after dismissing Rishabh Pant in the fourth T20I at Rajkot, you knew it was a planned dismissal. In the 13th over of the inning, Maharaj threw a fuller wide. Pant, who was down to 17 of 22 at the time, threw his racquet at it only to take it to the short third man.

But if you’ve followed Pant’s earlier layoffs on the show, you already knew this was coming. In the second T20I, Maharaj had dismissed Pant with a similarly wide delivery. It was the first ball of Maharaj’s spell. Pant had jumped down the track on purpose. Had he left it, he would have been at a loss. So he reached out and was caught at the deep point.

Also in the first T20I, Pant fell against Anrich Nortje with a long-range shot. Even if you ease him up there a bit, since that was the last over of the innings where he had to throw caution to the wind, the pattern persists. In 19 T20 innings this year, Pant has fallen on wide deliveries 10 times.

Former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar, commenting during the fourth T20I, said it was “not a good sign” that Pant repeatedly fell into the same trap.

“He didn’t learn it,” Gavaskar told Star Sports. “He has learned nothing from his last three layoffs. You throw far and he keeps going. He needs to stop deflating that far outside the stump. There’s no way he’ll get enough of it.

“Ten times he was released far out from the stump. Some of them would have been called far away if he hadn’t had contact with it. Because he’s so far away, he has to reach for it. He’ll never get enough turn it on.”

At the post-game presentation, Pant was asked about the pattern of his layoffs. He said he could “try to improve in certain areas” but “don’t think about it too much”.

But bowlers, both fast and spin, seem to have done their homework. Pant’s most prolific boundary shots are the slog and the pull, but bowlers have learned not to feed him there. They now throw fewer balls on the stumps and further out, away from his hitting angle.

In 2020 and 2021, they bowled 32.6% of the balls on the stumps. So far this year, the number has dropped to 29.6%. Meanwhile, the corresponding figures for the width-outside-of-blunt line have increased from 9.7% to 14.3%.

Despite meager wins in that streak — 57 runs with a 14.25 average and a 105.55 batting average — Pant’s overall numbers aren’t too bad this year. He has 457 runs with an average of 28.56 and a batting average of 145.54.

However, the resurgence of Dinesh Karthik has sparked debate that Karthik and not Pant should be India’s first-choice wicketkeeper in T20Is. Before the start of the South Africa series, it was thought that if Karthik were to find a place in the Playing XI, he would need to be a pure batter. But now it could very well be Pant in this situation.

While Pant’s totals are decent, his middle-over strike rate (136.09) in T20s this year is lower than most batters vying for a middle-tier spot. In overs seven through 16, Rahul Tripathi struck at 160.00, Sanju Samson at 144.34, Deepak Hooda at 139.24 and Shreyas Iyer at 137.12. Somewhat surprisingly, Suryakumar Yadav has only hit 131.63 at this stage, but overall he is averaging 45.55 with a batting average of 155.89 in 11 games in 2022.

But Pant is an outsider. Apart from that he has something else to offer: he is the only top 6 contender apart from Ishan Kishan who is left-handed. If India misses Pant, the opposition could use a legspinner or a left orthodox spinner to strangle a lineup made up mostly of right thugs.

However, India must weigh how much they will benefit from Pant being a left-handed batsman versus a right-handed batsman who may otherwise have better numbers.

But then, early in the series, Pant himself had said, “The kind of batting lineup we have, leftie-rightie, it’s not a big deal to us because we’re playing weirdos day in and day out.”

Statistics input from Shiva Jayaraman

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