Stumper Pant pays for limited-overs failures

Rishabh Pant has been dropped from the Indian squad for the Test series against South Africa on Monday. PTI file photo

It looks like Rishabh Pant is paying the penalty for his limited-over misdemeanours after Indian skipper Virat Kohli confirmed on Tuesday that returning Wriddhiman Saha will be replacing him as the wicketkeeper for the Test series against South Africa.

Pressure on Pant has been rising since the West Indies tour with every failure of the dynamic young batsman magnified. Critics slammed his shot-selection, although, for the benefit of the 21-year-old, he just continued playing his natural game that had catapulted him to international stage much earlier than he had envisioned.

Just before the T20I series against South Africa, coach Ravi Shastri and new batting coach Vikram Rathour berated the Delhiite for trying to attack from the word go instead of taking his time to settle down before exploding. And following failures against the Proteas, the management decided to crack the whip and pin their faith back on Saha, whose career itself had appeared at crossroads not too long ago owing to a botched up injury treatment.

"Saha is fit and fine to go and he’s going to start for us this series,” said Kohli on Tuesday. “His keeping credentials are there for everyone to see. He’s played well for us whenever he’s got a chance, with the bat also. And it was unfortunate that he was out for such a long period because of an injury and according to me, he’s the best keeper in the world. So in these conditions, with what he’s done in the past, he starts for us.”

While Saha certainly deserves to regain his place in the side, considering his superior glove work, especially against spinners on turning tracks at home, Pant hasn’t done bad in whites in the opportunities he has got. In 11 Test matches, he’s scored 754 runs, including centuries in England and Australia, a feat which even the great MS Dhoni couldn't accomplish.

When asked what was the reasoning behind banishing Pant despite a good run in the longer format and suddenly returning to the tried and tested Saha, Kohli had this to offer. “We felt like Rishabh, given the opportunities, had done well. Although Saha was almost going to start, we felt it was better to just let him ease back into things rather than just forcing him into starting immediately. We all felt that he’s just come back and although he’s keeping well, he’s batting well, but it’s fair to give Rishabh a few more opportunities because of what he’s done in the past season for us.

“But yeah, look, Saha was always going to be someone that we would back as a pure keeper in Test cricket and he’s done well under pressure situations also in the past. So it was just about finding the right opportunity and moment to bring him back in and you need to be wary of those things in a team environment where you understand when to bring a player back, and when to give another guy more opportunities. I think these are very delicate things, you can always look at it in hindsight, whether the timing was right or not, but just go with your gut feel, along with the management, and then you take a call and stand by your decision. I feel now is the right time for Saha to come back in, get into his zone, and then we know what he can do with the gloves and with the bat as well under pressure situations.”

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