Is Rishabh Pant the GWOAT?
Longevity will determine where he sits vis a vis Gilchrist and the rest, but there's no doubt he's already in the debate
Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni's true successor as wicketkeeper-batter for India, went past a Dhoni record in Mirpur. Dhoni was out five times in the 90s, the most by a wicketkeeper in Tests until Pant went past him on Friday.
Some might call it unfortunate, but add his five hundreds, and Pant has now made 11 scores of 90 or more in just 55 Test innings, an astonishing rate of once every five attempts.
Pant is already India's best wicketkeeper-batter by a distance, having scored Test hundreds in England, Australia and South Africa. On form he is the best batter in the current Indian side. By extension, leaving romanticism and the virtues of pure wicketkeeping skills aside, he is already India's greatest wicketkeeper. And he isn't a shabby keeper either.
But the Pant comparisons can no longer be restricted to just India players.
Not before long, Pant will be discussed among the greatest wicketkeepers ever, and will likely surpass them, but it is not too early to try and place him in the pantheon. In terms of sheer runs, Pant is now the 30th-highest run-getter among wicketkeepers with 2262 at an average of 44.35. His longevity will be tested, but among those who have kept long enough to score 2000 runs, Pant's average is behind only AB de Villiers, Andy Flower and Adam Gilchrist.
Pant is not like a lot of other keepers, though. This is not to suggest Gilchrist would have done any less batting higher in the order, but he mostly batted at No. 7 and didn't perform a specialist batter's duties. Among keepers who have batted in the top six, Pant is already the ninth-highest run-getter, averaging 49.67 for his 1540 runs there. De Villiers, Dhoni, Flower, Gilchrist and Les Ames average higher than him in these positions, but this is elite company.
Pant hardly gets to score declaration runs. He is playing in a bowling era where you hardly get flat pitches outside Pakistan, and the attacks are fitter and deeper than ever before. He is also part of a batting line-up in transition, and has batted alongside veterans going through their worst patches. He often finds himself in crisis situations where there are no tired bowlers to take advantage of. Because he bats in the top six, these aren't usually nothing-to-lose situations either.
People talk lightly about certain batters' presence. For proper presence, look no further than the field settings when Pant comes out to bat even when India are struggling. At 48 for 3 and 72 for 3 in the two Tests in this series, Pant has walked out with long-on and deep midwicket in place. On both occasions, Taijul Islam had been bowling beautifully, getting the ball to dip, not letting batters go on the back foot, but not letting them play attacking drives either. This had allowed him to be in a position to benefit if the pitch did something.
Pant, though, completely changes the game. To be fair, the in-out fields were an attacking ploy for him when he came into the side back in 2018. It worked for a while with Moeen Ali getting him caught in the deep. Now Pant just picks up the singles and manipulates the field in other areas. Once he is on, those fielders cease to matter. His power-hitting has come a long way too: even if he gets too close to the ball, he can impart enough power to hit flat sixes. Among wicketkeepers, only Dhoni and Gilchrist have hit more sixes than Pant.
With Pant, you can sometimes get a loose waft if the right kind of seamer angles, seams or swings the ball across him, but that is hardly unusual. Every batter will have some weakness, but batting is all about what you do around that weakness. The fields set for Pant tell you that the pitching zone for what qualifies as a good ball is smaller for him. And when you have to aim at a smaller target, you miss more often. He can cut and drive just as well as he can slog and reverse-ramp James Anderson. Okay that reverse-ramp might not be as high-percentage as the other shots, but you get the drift.
Any wicketkeeper will tell you what a physically taxing job it is; how far Pant moves up among the handful of all-time greats will come down to his longevity, but it is sure he is already one of them.
With stats inputs from Shiva Jayaraman
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo