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Rahul Dravid: Rishabh Pant remains 'integral part of India's line-up'

Stand-in captain managed only 58 runs in five innings at a strike rate of 105 against South Africa

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
India head coach Rahul Dravid has backed Rishabh Pant, saying he remains "an integral part" of the side, despite the wicketkeeper-batter managing only 58 runs at a strike rate of 105.45 in the five T20Is against South Africa.
Coming into this series, Pant had scored 340 runs at an average of 30.90 in IPL 2022. His strike rate at the tournament was 151.78, significantly higher than that in the last two editions - 113.95 in 2020 and 128.52 in 2021. Dravid said the team is expecting him to play a similar attacking role at the international level as well.
"When you're asking people to play a slightly more attacking brand of cricket in the middle overs and to take the game on a little bit more, sometimes it's hard to judge based on two or three games," Dravid said after the washed-out fifth T20I in Bengaluru.
"I thought he had a pretty good IPL. He might not have looked good on the averages, but his strike rate was really good. He looked to move that up a little bit - to where he was probably three years ago. We're going to hope that we can get those kinds of numbers from him at the international level as well. In that process, he might go wrong in a few games.
"But he remains an integral part of our batting line-up. We know what he does with the power he has. The fact that he is a left-hander is very important to us as well in the middle overs. And he has played some good knocks. Of course, personally, he would have liked to have scored a few more runs but it's not that concerning. For us, he is certainly a very big part of our plans going ahead in the next few months."
Dinesh Karthik, meanwhile, continues to impress in the niche role as a strictly final-five overs batter. In the fourth T20I in Rajkot, Karthik had smashed a 27-ball 55, the sort of knock that, Dravid said, "certainly makes you start". Karthik and Hardik Pandya, who hit 46 off 31 deliveries, had added 65 off 33 balls to lift India to 169, which proved to be a winning total.
"He was picked for a very specific skill," Dravid said of Karthik. "And it's nice when that's kind of indicated in a sense that it came together brilliantly for us in the Rajkot game, where we needed that big performance in the last five overs to be able to make a par score. He and Hardik [Pandya] batted beautifully for us; both of them are our enforcers at the end, guys who can capitalise on those last five-six overs.
"They are probably two of the best in the world in those last five-six overs. So, yeah, it was really nice to see Karthik come off and do what he has been picked to do. It certainly opens up a lot more options for us going forward. Innings like that certainly make you start. Like I was telling the guys it's not about knocking the door - you have to start banging the door down, and an innings like that certainly means he is knocking very hard."
"Shreyas, in the early part [of the series] on tricky wickets, showed intent and played positively. Ruturaj showed in one particular innings [in the third T20I] what quality and skill he has got."
India coach Rahul Dravid
With Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli not part of the series, there was a chance for fringe players to present their cases. Ishan Kishan scored 206 runs - by far the most in the series - at a strike rate of 150.36, but Ruturaj Gaikwad and Shreyas Iyer failed to impress. Gaikwad tallied only 96 runs in five innings at a strike rate 131.50, and Iyer 94 runs at 123.68. But Dravid isn't disappointed with them.
"We're not going to make knee-jerk reactions," he said. "As you have seen, I don't like judging people after one series, or one game. Every one of the guys who got the opportunity here truly deserved the opportunity; they have earned it. And in this format of the game, you're going to have some good games and some bad games.
"I think Shreyas, in the early part [of the series] on a couple of tricky wickets, showed a lot of intent and played really positively for us. Ruturaj showed in one particular innings [in the third T20I] what quality and skill he has got.
"In Twenty20, you can have the odd games [where] your form and performance goes up and down a little bit. So we are not very disappointed with anyone. As a group, we were looking to play a slightly more positive and attacking brand of cricket right from the beginning. And we knew you when you're trying to do that, it's not always going to come off. But what we are certainly clear about the kind of cricket we want to play."

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo