As strange as it may sound, Rishabh Pant, the poster boy of the band of fearless young Indian talents unearthed by the IPL, is no longer an obvious name in India’s T20I teamsheet. While he continues to excel in a format that was initially considered an anti-thesis to his style and approach, the hard-handed approach hasn’t yielded him the same result in T20Is. 

It’s neither about intent nor approach, albeit his strike rate in the international games tells you an important story. It’s more about a specific weakness, a chink in his armour that was already visible almost a couple of years into his career, but only now the bowlers have started to exploit it. In the recently concluded T20I series against South Africa, Pant got out while chasing a wide delivery that was deliberately thrown way outside his hitting arc three times. And on all three occasions, he was caught at the cover region. 

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Pant favours hitting everything towards the leg side. He devours on anything bowled into him or around the off stump. To limit this aspect of his game, both pacers and spinners now try to bowl away from him, making him reach for the ball, rather than putting them in his hitting arc. This is where Pant often falters, losing his poise and wicket in one movement.

Against South Africa, the Delhi Capitals skipper managed 57 runs in four innings. Keshav Maharaj got him out twice with a similar plan, while Anrich Nortje showed that going wide against him is a better option for the pacers as well. Had Pant done well in that series, this wouldn’t have been a question in the first place. But in the T20 World Cup year, India simply can’t afford a batter with such glaring weakness that the opponents would love to exploit. 

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In the T20Is against England, the team management promoted him as an opener. He made a quickfire 26 in the second game, but fell cheaply in the next. India need a left-hand option in the top order, and Ishan Kishan has been the first choice for them. Promoting Pant is perhaps a signal from the team management to the player that his time in middle-order has come to an end. Moreover, the middle-order of Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, and Ravindra Jadeja looks much better already. 

But once the injured KL Rahul makes his comeback, it’s going to be a fight between Virat Kohli and Pant. If Kohli is able to get back in form before the World Cup, Pant may have to warm the bench, and wait for his chances. After 50 international appearances, Pant has averaged just over 20 with an underwhelming strike of 124. 

Wasim Jaffer too raised the same concerns, stating that he doesn’t see Pant as a certainty.

“Once KL Rahul comes back, he walks into the side. He is a wicketkeeper as well. If Dinesh Karthik is certain to play, he is also a wicketkeeper. The way Rishabh Pant has played recently, I won’t call him a certainty,” Jaffer, the leading run-scorer in the history of Ranji Trophy, told ESPNCricinfo.

“I think he needs to score runs and score pretty consistently. He hasn’t done that in the IPL or in any T20 internationals,” added Jaffer.

For all his recent failures in T20I, Pant remains a spectacularly gifted batter, and watching him is always a thrilling experience, fraught with both joy and concern, as you never know which route he’ll take. But his returns in the shortest format of the game leaves a lot to be desired. 

Featured Image Credit: Rishabh Pant/Twitter