It is easy to forget the pre-Dhoni era of wicketkeeping in India. For a few years after Adam Gilchrist redefined the role the world over, India had to do with makeshift options, from a 16-year-old Parthiv Patel to a disgruntled Rahul Dravid. Dhoni’s emergence kept genuine talents such as Robin Utthappa, Dinesh Karthik, Naman Ojha, and until recently Wriddhiman Saha firmly on the fringes of the national setup, when in previous eras any of them would have been automatic picks.
Now, India is faced with the happy conundrum of three immensely promising options behind the stumps, each only beginning their careers. Sanju Samson, the oldest of these three at 23, has already played a match for India, and his name has been floated as one for the future since the 2013 IPL. Despite his bright IPL displays and apparent fluidity, he has been frustrated by lackluster returns in the Ranji Trophy and List A cricket, leading critics to believe that he is unable to successfully translate his expansive style to more challenging conditions. A stint in county cricket could be key in solidifying his game.
Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan, on the other hand, are 20 and 19 each, and their India careers seem a matter of inevitability rather than speculation. Pant grabbed attention at the Under-19 with scores of record-breaking rapidity aggression against Nepal and the Netherlands, leading to a Rs. 1.9 crore IPL contract from Delhi. He has additionally made his mark in the Ranji Trophy, with a triple-hundred and a 48-ball hundred to his name. Kishan, like Dhoni, is from Jharkhand, and as he displayed last night, has the sort of rare six-hitting power which sends franchises gaga at the auction and wins clutch games.
Dhoni will probably play till the World Cup next year, and then retire to the IPL after that. Kishan and Pant, in particular, could each make the team as pure batsmen off their potential. They are both bottom-handed left handers who leave a bit of the textbook behind every time they go out to bat, but they exhibit the ability to accelerate at the elite levels set by modern international cricket, which has proved elusive to many Indian batsmen in the past. Their position as wicketkeepers allow them a flexible role in one-day lineups, and provides any team they are in with a certain degree of balance, as evidenced by this IPL.