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'Give Pant breathing space by slotting him at No. 5' - Gavaskar

Gavaskar felt Pant must work on his shot selection, but said the young player should not let outside opinions affect him too much

Rishabh Pant and India's batting coach Vikram Rathour at a training session, Bengaluru, September 20, 2019

Associated Press

Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar believes India could send Rishabh Pant in at No. 5 in limited-overs cricket to allow the wicketkeeper-batsman to play his aggressive, natural game. Pant was the subject of a debate last week, after India's newly appointed batting coach Vikram Rathour said the wicketkeeper-batsman was among a set of young players who needed to be more disciplined in their game plan. Rathour pointed out that "there is a fine line between fearless cricket and careless cricket".
The day after Rathour's comments, Pant's discipline and shot selection were in the spotlight again, in the second T20I against South Africa in Mohali, where he deposited a leg-stump short-of-a-length ball into the hands of short fine leg.
In Mohali, Pant came in at No. 4, a position the Indian team management placed him at even during the World Cup. In the semi-final against New Zealand, Pant heaved the ball to cow corner just as he was in the middle of building a partnership with Hardik Pandya after India's top-order slump.
Gavaskar believed playing Pant at No. 5 could release the pressure on the young batsman. "Giving him a bit of breathing space by slotting him at No. 5 could also help, for at that number he will invariably come in to bat where his aggressive batting is needed from the start rather than when he has to build his and the team's innings," Gavaskar wrote in Sunday Mid-Day. "Just like a little tweak in the grip can make a world of difference to a player as a bowler or as batsman, so also a little tweak in the batting order could change the fortunes of a player."
Also read the Rishabh Pant interview: 'This much I know - how to play in what situation'
Like Rathour, Gavaskar felt Pant had to work on his shot selection, but said the young player should not let outside opinions affect him too much. "In Pant's case, it's more of a case of wrong shot selection than anything else. People talk about him getting out to the first ball in Trinidad [in India's previous series] but those same people were wah wahing [praising] his audacity in hitting the second ball he faced for a six in his debut innings [in Tests]. So the young man has to bear in mind the fickle nature of the Indian fans and play the way he knows.
"With experience he will be better at shot selection and will be more consistent but right now he needs a hand around his shoulders rather than a public dressing down. The most important thing for the young man to understand is that he has to play according to the situation and not according to the expectations of the public."
Former India opener Gautam Gambhir echoed Gavaskar's thoughts in his column for the Times of India. All the debate over his batting will just leave Pant insecure, Gambhir, who was Pant's captain at Delhi in domestic cricket, cautioned. "It is disappointing to see the team-management using words like 'from fearless to careless,'" he wrote. "This is no way to handle a young human resource.
"What I do know is that the boy is now playing for survival rather than scoring runs. From the outside it seems that his mindset is all over the place. Someone needs to put an arm around his shoulder and tell him that he is wanted in the team."
According to Gavaskar, Pant is experiencing "second-season blues", much like a mystery spinner whose wizardry has become predictable over time. "The talented young man is going through the second-season blues which most players go through. In the first season there's not that much information about the player and so he can sail through without much difficulty but by the time the second season starts, there is more data and info available not just through the recorded matches but also through the cricketing grapevine. So the opposition is better primed."