FINDERS KEEPERS: ASSESSING INDIA’S WICKETKEEPING OPTIONS AHEAD OF THE T20I WORLD CUP

THE DRAWING BOARD

ATUL KUMAR MAURYA | 21st January 2020

Samson is the dark horse to don the gloves down under

 

As the ICC T20 World Cup is approaching and the stakes are as high as the expectations perched on Team India, the goal is to avoid the nationwide No.4 debate and come to a consensus about the strongest possible XI they can field. Few of the big names are certain to be on the team sheet, whereas the remaining players are still contesting for the spot in the team to fly for Australia. One of the berths which is still in question for the Indian team is that behind the stumps. Rishabh Pant is the frontrunner to take the spot, according to the faith shown in him by the board and the hype around the flamboyant youngster, but the real question is, “is there a twist in the tale?”

Most people will firmly believe that the spot is going to be Pant’s. But with the selection board keeping an eye on the performances of Sanju Samson as well, there’s a slight chance that Delhi’s prodigal son’s place might be in jeopardy.

India may just have struck gold with KL Rahul behind the stumps

Table 1: T20Is batting stats for the 3 in contention

Name
Matches
Innings
Runs
HS
Avg.
SR
100s
50s
Rishabh Pant
28
25
410
65
20.50
121.66
0
2
Sanju Samson
2
2
25
19
12.50
96.15
0
0
KL Rahul
37
33
1237
110
44.18
146.39
2
9

Table 2: T20Is Wicketkeeping figures

Name
Catches
Stumpings
Rishabh Pant
5
4
Sanju Samson
0
1
KL Rahul
0
0

The statistics clearly show that it is a two-way tie between Pant and Rahul, but it will be unfair on our part to compare just the international numbers when Samson has played a mere 2 matches while KL hasn’t kept wickets internationally. Meanwhile, all three have been prolific for their respective IPL teams, batting and keeping wickets at the highest level and is certainly a good barometer for passing judgement.

Table 3: IPL batting statistics for the 3 in contention

Name
Matches
Innings
Runs
HS
Avg.
SR
100s
50s
Rishabh Pant
54
54
1736
128
36.17
162.70
1
11
Sanju Samson
93
89
2209
102
27.61
130.25
2
10
KL Rahul
67
58
1977
100
42.06
138.16
1
16

Table 4: IPL Wicketkeeping numbers

Name
Catches
Stumpings
Rishabh Pant
30
11
Sanju Samson
24
4
KL Rahul
22
6

For now, Pant is the obvious first-choice ‘keeper

The Indian Premier League stats make the picture much clearer. Both Pant and Rahul have a better average and strike rate as compared to that of Sanju Samson’s. The Kings XI Punjab skipper is in supreme form and can be the choice for this spot if India decide to incorporate both Rahul and Dhawan in the same squad. This setup gives the team an option to include an extra batsman or an all-rounder to strengthen the side. On the other hand, Pant is a natural wicket-keeper and a power hitter, possessing the ability to turn the game on its head in the latter stages of a contest. On the maturity factor, Rahul is definitely ahead of Pant as he tends to patiently build his innings as opposed to the Pant’s blitzkrieg approach, which can be a boon as well as a bane for the aggressive batsman.

The selectors will also have an eye on the upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League and will be analysing the performances of these two rising stars.

Last but not least, no Indian wicketkeeping debate goes without mentioning Mahendra Singh Dhoni. One of the game’s greatest ever wicket-keepers might not have been given a central contract by BCCI this time ‘round, but there’s still a fair chance that he might feature in the upcoming 20-over World Cup. With 98 international T20s and 1617 runs under his belt with an average and strike rate of 37.60 and 126.13 respectively along with 57 catches and 34 stumpings, Dhoni is the ultimate gamechanger. His IPL record is even more sensational. With an average of 42.20 and a strike rate of 137.82, the former Indian captain has scored a mammoth 4431 runs for Chennai Super Kings along with 95 catches and 38 stumpings.

Given a chance in the team, he might be the X-factor but even the demi-god’s most ardent followers have conceded to the fact that the legend’s best days are behind him. Betting for Dhoni to do the business one last time would be a decision taken by the romantics of the sport, leaving logic and pragmaticism to another side.

Could it be one last bite of the cherry for MSD?

With 7 more months left to the World Cup in Australia, India will be looking to finalise the wicketkeeping spot and try different options in the middle-order to strengthen the cohesion of the side, ahead of one of the sport’s most premier competitions.

Whoever does secure their spot behind the stumps has big gloves to fill, in this scenario, a task that all the candidates are worthy of accomplishing.

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