Will Rishabh Pant head to the World Cup? The answer will be known by Monday afternoon. Even as MSK Prasad's selection committee gets ready to deliberate on India's final 15, ESPNcricinfo asked two former India wicketkeepers, Kiran More and Deep Dasgupta, to analyse Pant's chances of making the World Cup squad.
Are you impressed by Pant's keeping in limited-overs cricket?
Kiran More: It is just his first year in international cricket. I remember everyone criticising [MS] Dhoni also during his first two years as a wicketkeeper. The same thing is happening now with Rishabh. There are a few technical areas that Rishabh needs to improve in, but that will happen with more match experience and he will definitely get better. But there is something special about his cricketing mind, undoubtedly.
Deep Dasgupta: He hasn't kept in too many games, firstly. I know everyone was talking about the leg-side stumping opportunity of Peter Handscomb he missed during the Australia ODI series last month. But that was a tough one. He has done all right, he has taken most of the chances he has got.
Already so far this IPL, I have observed noticeable improvement in Rishabh's keeping skills. He is communicating a lot with the bowlers. Take the example of the catch of Robin Uthappa he took on Friday in the game against Kolkata Knight Riders off Kagisao Rabada. More than the catch, it was the initial movement that put him in a good position to finish the catch.
Technically, what are areas that he can improve on?
More: The one thing I have observed where he needs to be improve is in concentration. You cannot allow lapses in concentration during wicketkeeping.
Technically, for a wicketkeeper his hand position is the most important thing. Sometimes he takes time, sometimes he moves them very quickly. Related to that is the balance. You get more stability with good balance. And proper balance of the body allows your hands to become really solid. So positioning of the gloves is very important.
He has got this habit of catching the ball in a different way. He got into the habit from his school days till he played age-group cricket, where he did not have a proper wicketkeeping coach. He has this habit of snatching at the ball with the gloves, his shoulder falls back.
Also the positioning, of where you are going to pick the ball, as per the line of the ball, is something that he is working on. And he is getting it. He's someone who has done well in Test matches, which means he will only get better.
Still, I feel there are a few areas he needs to work on, including keeping against the fast bowlers. I have observed he takes small steps towards the inside (towards his left for a right-hand batsman). Some wicketkeepers get into that habit naturally of going inside as a trigger movement before the ball is pitched. At times that could lead to missing edges that go mostly in the pocket between the wickeetkeeper and first slip. And those are mostly the keeper's catches.
I am not being harsh on him. I have been working with him for the past two years. His agility and movement is superb. He is a strong lad. He has a superb brain. He is street-smart like Dhoni. Having said that, he should be like Rishabh Pant, not try and copy someone. You pick up the good points of Dhoni, that's very important.
Dasgupta: The good part about Rishabh is he is aware of what areas he needs to improve in and how. He has got a roadmap. He realises things like not getting up early, getting into a position of where he gathers the ball, and the right footwork are important.
But a wicketkeeper plays a very important role in the 50-overs cricket, especially in the Indian set-up. Virat [Kohli], most of the times, fields in the outfield and that's where the keeper's role becomes very important in terms of field placement, in terms of speaking to the bowler about the line, length and how to bowl to batsmen. All that will not come right away. With time, experience, camaraderie and knowing the bowlers and his team-mates, all that will come gradually. Things like setting fields, the angles, especially the point, square leg, covers, close-in fielders, speaking to the bowlers, will come with experience. Standing right next to the batsman, the wicketkeeper has a feel for what he is trying to do, whether he is fidgety, what kind of a shot he is trying to play. All this comes with experience.
Can he fit in as a specialist batsman in the World Cup squad?
Dasgupta: In 50-overs cricket the issue with batting in the middle order is you can be called upon in different situations. You can come out there batting at 200 for 3, as the case was in Mohali, where he played his natural game. But he could also go in to bat at 100 for 3, where he has to play differently, as was the case in the final ODI of the Australia series.
So I'm not too sure whether he still knows how to play those situations. When it comes to Test matches, you can still play your natural game whether it is 100 for 5 or 400 for 5. In T20 cricket, you are not really asked to do too many different things. But in a 50-overs game, in the middle order, you have to be a little more equipped in terms of handling different situations. My only concern is whether he is ready to do that as of now.
Against the Knight Riders, having done all the hard work initially, and on the cusp of finishing off the match, Rishabh failed to do that and threw his wicket away. Till then I was impressed by his maturity of batting deep and playing second fiddle to Shikhar Dhawan, which we have not seen him do frequently.
So will I play him as a specialist batsman in the World Cup? At this point in time, maybe not. Also in terms of the batting positions, who would you play him in place of? I would play Kedar [Jadhav] at 6, Dhoni at 5, leaving No. 4 as the only spot available. I feel Vijay Shankar is better equipped at this point in time than Rishabh at No. 4.
More: Of course he can. The selectors made a small mistake by not playing him in the ODIs in England last year. Because if I am looking at a young player, ideally he should have played at least 30 games. But I will punt on him, definitely, only because he is a match-winner. That is what he has done in Test matches, he can win you games single-handedly. He is a big-occasion player. He has got the guts to go for his shots, he is ruthless. If it clicks, it will benefit India immensely.
Pant or Dinesh Karthik for World Cup?
More: If I am the selector, I will take Pant to the World Cup.
Dasgupta: As of now I will say DK [Karthik]. Because DK has the experience and he is more flexible in terms of the batting order: if required he can bat anywhere from No. 1 to 6. But Rishabh, as we know, can be the X-factor and I can understand if the selectors pick him.