HYDERABAD: First up was the Test side. And now in space of two months, Dinesh Karthik has found himself losing his spot to Rishabh Pant as the senior national selection committee named the Delhi wicketkeeper in the squad for the first two ODIs against West Indies starting on October 21. Virat Kohli, who was rested for the Asia Cup in UAE, will lead the 14-member squad, which also sees pacer Mohammed Shami earning a recall after a year.
Keeping in mind the workload on the pacers ahead of the gruelling tour of Australia later this year, selectors have extended the rest period for Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Seamers Deepak Chahar and Sidharth Kaul, who played one match each in the Asia Cup, have been dropped from the side. Kedar Jadhav, who sustained a hamstring injury, and Hardik Pandya (injury) were unavailable for selection as left-arm seamer Khaleel Ahmed retained his place. But, undoubtedly, the biggest decision was the inclusion of Pant ahead of Karthik.
The latter, who was part of the Asia Cup-winning side, played all five matches, mostly batting at No 4. He scored 146 runs and was unable to convert a couple of starts at a time when the team was looking to fill holes in the middleorder. Karthik subsequently gave a miss to the Vijay Hazare Trophy for Tamil Nadu, even as Manish Pandey — his competitor of sorts — turned out for Karnataka. Since making a comeback to the ODI side last year, Karthik played in 15 matches, scoring 350 runs and scored only two fifties at a time when he was expected to cement his place. With only 18 ODIs to go before the World Cup, MSK Prasad, the chairman of the national selection committee, said the inclusion of Pant was merely as a back-up for Dhoni.
“It’s a no-brainer who our No 1 wicketkeeper is (Dhoni). In the search of a second wicketkeeper, we have given opportunities to DK. Right now we’re giving an opportunity to Rishabh Pant. And we can take a call at an appropriate time about who the best is among the two,” he said. It will also test the team’s resolve to continue with MS Dhoni, who has been in poor form of late. Dhoni has been a pale shadow of himself in ODIs and since his hundred against England in January 2017, has made only five fifties, the last of which came against Sri Lanka last December.
Even his strikerate in that period has been 80.14, nearly seven lesser than his career strike-rate. It is in this context that Pant’s inclusion holds plenty of significance. As Prasad said: “If the need arises, he will definitely be the back-up keeper.” Long touted as a perfect fit for limited- overs, the lefthander’s inclusion in the Test side raised a few eyebrows. However, he responded by scoring a century in England and followed it up with 92 in the first Test against West Indies in Rajkot last week.
With Pant set to be considered as a specialist batsman and Dhoni continuing to be the No 1 keeper, it remains to be seen where the former is slotted in the middle- order. Ambati Rayudu looks more likely to be the No 4 with Pandey vying for the No 5. If Pant is included in the side, he could make a strong case for himself in that slot as being a left-hander he provides variety in the middle-order.