Shikhar Dhawan’s injury is nothing less than a blessing in disguise for Rishabh Pant. When the Indian selectors had announced the final squad, it looked like Pant would have to wait for at least four more years to make his World Cup debut. However, a bouncer from Pat Cummins changed everything. Dhawan coped the blow on his thumb and suffered a hairline fracture.
India first kept him under observation before deciding to replace him with Pant in the main squad. Rishabh Pant breaking into the playing eleven straightaway looks like a far-fetched idea especially after the way Vijay Shankar performed with the ball against England. But given Shankar’s struggles to hit the big blows with the bat, it is more or less certain that the team could opt to replace him in the playing eleven.
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If such a scenario arises then Pant will undoubtedly come into picture. And if the team-management decides to include him in the playing eleven, then asking him to open the innings seem to be a wise choice. Pant has batted in the middle-order in international cricket as well as Indian Premier League but one should not forget that he used to open the innings in his U-19 days.
He first made a mark in the game with his exploits in the 2016 U-19 World Cup as an opener. With 267 runs at a strike-rate of over 100, he was India’s second highest run-scorer. So opening the innings comes naturally to Pant. Opening the innings with Pant would definitely be a bold decision but it can also bear great results. And this game has witnessed that such bold calls have yielded great results more often than not.
Who can forget Romesh Kaluwitharana’s batting at the top of the order in the 1996 World Cup. His fast starts at the top of the order played a huge role in Sri Lanka’s historic triumph. India have themselves tasted success from such an experiment. Rohit Sharma had opened the innings for the first time in 2013 Champions Trophy and had played a big role in India’s victory.
There are no doubts that Pant is one of the best hitters in the game at the moment. And given the fielding restrictions and the smaller grounds of England, promoting him as an opener could be a masterstroke. Pant has played in England already and is well aware of the conditions. The amount of talent he has, he could easily take the game away from the opposition in a blink of an eye if he gets going.
KL Rahul can then drop down to number four which will provide the middle-order with some much-needed solidity. Shankar might bring a lot to the table but he is definitely untested at the big stage. Moreover, with the way he struggled against Pakistan to provide India a strong finish, having an experienced player like Rahul at the crucial number four position is a wise choice.