AUS vs IND: Rishabh Pant's Keeping-Specific Fitness & Weak Skill-Sets A Worry
India took a risk by selecting the 23-year-old Rishabh Pant ahead of experienced gloveman Wriddhiman Saha in the second and third Tests against Australia to strengthen the batting while hoping the consistent bounce on Australian surfaces wouldn't challenge Pant's wicketkeeping skills.
However, India may now be ruing picking him after the dashing batsman-keeper dropped debutant Will Pucovski twice on Thursday, allowing the batsman to stitch a century partnership with Marnus Labuschagne and give Australia a strong start on the first day of the third Test.
Pant first dropped Pucovski off the bowling of R Ashwin when the batsman was on 26 and Australia on 49/1. It was a straightforward catch behind the stumps but the wicketkeeper couldn't hold on to the ball.
Then, he dropped the 22-year-old Aussie again a few overs later when the batsman was on 32 and the team at 55/1. Pucovski top-edged a short ball from Mohammed Siraj which ballooned in the air. Pant turned around to run but then jumped to latch on to the ball. Even though he thought he had taken it, replays showed that the ball had hit the ground before he could cleanly gather it.
Pucovski went on to make 62, and when he eventually fell as the second wicket after adding 100 with Marnus Labuschagne, Australia's score read 106.
The two dismissals (as also some recent examples) expose basic problems with Pant's wicketkeeping. One is that he is not keeping his eyes on the ball till the last moment and the other is that he is not fit enough for sideways movement but instead jumps to take catches.
Former India stumper and chief selector MSK Prasad says that Pant needs to work on his fitness as well as wicketkeeping skills.
"Firstly, he has to work on his fitness, not just his general fitness but wicketkeeping-specific fitness. A wicketkeeper needs to have that sideways movement to receive balls," Prasad told IANS.
"He is just jumping. If you are fit, you will move sideways. If you are not fit, you will take just one step and keep jumping from there. He did well on the last Australia tour. Of late though he is jumping," Prasad added.
Prasad, whose tenure as India's chief selector ended last year, said that Pant needs to practice a lot and go back and brush up the basics.
"He has to go back and brush up his basics. He has to improve his skill-sets in wicketkeeping, the reaction time, anticipation and watching the ball till the end," said Prasad.
"The way he kept in the IPL also, he was missing quite a few balls. He is not watching the ball till the end."
On Thursday, former Australia captain Ricky Ponting who is the coach of IPL franchisee Delhi Capitals for which Pant plays, too criticised his wicketkeeping.
"I've said it all along, the knock on Rishabh is always going to be on his keeping. Since his debut in Test cricket, he has dropped more catches than any other wicketkeeper in the world. That highlights he has got some work to do with his keeping," Ponting told Cricket Australia.
India had played Wriddhiman Saha in the opening Test in Adelaide, where they were dismissed for 36 in the second innings. A need to strengthen the batting forced India to bring Pant in for Saha in the second Test at Melbourne.
Pant made 29 at Melbourne and added 59 important runs with skipper Ajinkya Rahane for the fifth wicket, rescuing India from a precarious 116/4.
On the last tour of Australia in 2018-19, Pant had impressed with the bat, scoring 159 not out off 189 deliveries at the Sydney Cricket Ground, venue of the ongoing Test.