Pant played a stellar role in India’s Border-Gavaskar series triumph in Australia and then continued his sublime form in the ongoing home Test series against England.
The 23-year-old, who scored a brilliant 97 in the Sydney Test and then an unbeaten 89 in Brisbane in India’s unforgettable series win on Australian soil, has already smashed two half-centuries in the first two Tests against England.
With the bat, Pant in fact was India’s highest run-getter in the recent Test series in Australia. He scored 274 runs in 3 Tests (5 innings) at an average of 68.50, including two half-centuries.
It’s not easy being a wicket-keeper batsman. There are two very big areas to concentrate on and you are almost constantly in the thick of things. Any flaw in either department is magnified multiple times by the critics. With Pant, the big question is can he continue to deliver both as a batsman and as a keeper?
So far in the two Tests vs England, Pant has shown that he is maturing as a glovesman.
Lauding Pant’s form in red-ball cricket, former India wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra echoed that sentiment.
“He was good as a keeper, especially in the Chennai Test (vs England). There was a lot of turn and bounce. Pant did a commendable job. He is improving with time and age. He needs to be consistent,” Ratra told Timesofindia.com.
After the two Tests against England in the ongoing series, the Delhi lad is so far the third-highest run-getter, after Joe Root and Rohit Sharma. He has 168 runs in 2 Tests (4 innings) to his name at an average of 56.00.
Ratra feels Pant will be India’s first-choice wicket-keeper as of now in Tests, but that he needs to look after his fitness.
“Pant has performed really well with the bat and gloves. For the time being, Pant will be India’s first-choice wicketkeeper. He will be replaced if there is a dip in his form or injury. Saha is a class act. He has taken Indian wicket-keeping to a different level. Pant is performing, but he will have to take care of his injuries and fitness. If he does that, he will go a long way,” Ratra said.
That Pant is a good batsman and that he can change the complexion of a match single-handedly is not a secret. It’s what he brings to the table as a wicket-keeper is what has always been the biggest hurdle. So far, in the two Tests vs England, Pant has been good behind the stumps, especially in the second Test in Chennai, where the pitch began to turn quite a bit from very early on in the match.
Another change that some have noticed is how he is talking to the bowlers from behind the stumps, giving them suggestions about where to bowl. It’s also a sign that he is becoming more confident.
Former England spinner Monty Panesar, who can understand both English and Hindi, called Pant a smart wicketkeeper.
“Pant is a little bit chirpier. I was listening to the commentary and could hear what exactly Pant was saying. He was asking Ashwin and Axar to bowl fuller. He also asked Ashwin to push it a bit wider. That was smart keeping. Pant is a smart keeper, he knows what he has to do. He is doing what Dhoni used to do. But one thing that was really satisfying was to see him keep on this kind of pitch (Chennai). It is not easy to keep against spinners, especially Ashwin. But Pant was absolutely brilliant,” Panesar told TimesofIndia.com.
The squad list announced by the BCCI for the five-match T20 series against England also has KL Rahul, but Pant is the designated keeper, along with Ishan Kishan as the back-up. Clearly the selectors want Pant to get the opportunities he needs to prove he fits into different formats as a keeper.
Rahul has already shown that he can be a very capable keeper-batsman. He also regularly keeps in the IPL and was the designated keeper in the limited overs series in Australia, before the Tests.
Pant meanwhile seems to be getting better as a keeper. He is also just 23 and has a long way to go. With the bat he has shown just how impactful he can be, across formats. If he keeps improving his keeping skills, India could have another finished product for the wicket-keeper batsman slot across formats soon, with the likes of Kishan and Samson waiting in the wings.