While Wriddhiman Saha has been preferred in the subcontinent due to his superior glovework when keeping against spin, Rishabh Pant’s ability with the bat to take the attack to the opposition has been the overriding factor in earning him the nod in overseas conditions.
India made an exception during the first Test of this series in Adelaide when they perhaps felt that Saha’s keeping against the moving pink ball would come in handy. But once the series returned to convention with the red ball coupled with the departure of Virat Kohli, Pant was drafted back in to add heft to the batting line-up.
While Pant’s ability with the bat does provide comfort to the Indian set-up – he made 159* for instance when these two teams last met at the SCG two years ago – he will have to iron out the flaws in his wicket-keeping. At SCG on Thursday, Pant dropped debutant Will Pucovski, who eventually made 62, on 26 & 32. The first of those was a regulation chance off the bowling of R Ashwin when the offie had drawn Pucovski forward to induce an outside edge.
According to former India wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta, Pant was done in by the extra bounce on that occasion. “On Indian surfaces, you tend to stay low for longer while keeping up to the stumps. When you play on bouncier pitches away from home, the ball comes a little quicker and a little higher. What he can do is be a bit more upright as it will help him get on top of the bounce,” Dasgupta told TOI on Thursday.
The second drop, which came off Mohammed Siraj’s bowling, was a bit more difficult as he had to run back and keep track of the ball over his head to complete the catch. Pant claimed the catch and even the soft signal from the on-field umpires was out. However, the decision was overturned when replays showed that Pant had fumbled the ball at first, and by the time he caught it on his second attempt, some part of the ball had hit the turf.
“I would give Pant the benefit of the doubt regarding that. It is not always possible to know whether the ball has hit the ground,” Dasgupta reasoned.
Since the start of 2018, Pant has dropped 0.86 chances per Test on average, which reflects unfavourably in comparison to others during this period. It makes him prone to further scrutiny than his competitors every time he squanders a chance. Even in the second Test at MCG, Pant had a few lapses behind the stumps, but they were overlooked amidst a euphoric Indian victory.
On a flat pitch like the one at SCG, though, such lapses might prove too costly.
“Dropped catches are part of the game. It can be a bit frustrating as a bowler, but we move on. You cannot focus on what’s already happened,” Siraj said at the end of the first day’s play on Thursday.
Pant would hope that he can make amends on Friday not just with the gloves but also by producing a sizeable score with the willow in hand.