Rishabh Pant to join Indian squad as cover for Shikhar Dhawan
Rishabh Pant will fly in this week to join the Indian squad as a cover for Shikhar Dhawan, who suffered a hairline fracture after being hit on the left thumb against Australia on Sunday. Pant was one of the standbys announced by the selectors in April, while announcing the 15-man squad for the World Cup.
The selectors have worked out that KL Rahul can perform Dhawan’s role should he fail to recover, which is the rationale behind choosing Pant, a middle-order batsman, as cover. Rahul was originally picked as the third opener in the squad, but sneaked into the XI last minute as No. 4.
Dhawan is also currently India’s only specialist left-hand batsman in the squad, and he disrupted Australia’s bowling plans during his century earlier this week, negating legspinner Adam Zampa. This purported advantage against legspin in the middle overs is another significant reason the selectors have opted for the left-handed Pant.
At a media briefing at Trent Bridge on Wednesday*, India’ assistant coach Sanjay Bangar hinted that Dhawan would sit out of the next three to four matches. Bangar agreed that having a left-hand batsman in the top order was always an advantage and that is something India would need to just cope with until Dhawan is declared fit.
“Shikhar will definitely be missed in the next three to four games, but we have great back-up for each position,” Bangar said.
He said that Dhawan is a “precious player” and hence the team management decided to not to rule him out straightaway. “We’ll be observing him and around the 10th or 12th day, we’ll get to know where he stands, and we’ll be in a better position to take a call because we don’t want to rule out a precious player like Shikhar straight. So we would like to wait and assess after 10-12 days.”
Bangar said it was only appropriate to get Pant to be with the squad immediately. “The thing is around 10 or 12 days, we’ll be taking a call on the status of Shikhar. Until that point, just to make sure that if and when the replacement is required – and I’m saying if and when – then it is always good to have the replacement player coming in and practising with the team, as a standby.”
Pant has played five ODIs since his debut against West Indies in October last year and averages 23.25, and he was part of India’s squad during their home series against Australia this year. But Dinesh Karthik’s experience and wicketkeeping had edged him ahead of Pant when the World Cup squad was named.
“It’s definitely a case where we have debated at length and all of us in unison felt that either Rishabh Pant or DK [Karthik] will only come into the playing XI if Mahi [Dhoni] is injured,” selector MSK Prasad had said of the decision. “If it is a crucial match, like a quarter-final or a semi-final or like an important game, wicketkeeping also matters. So that’s the only reason that we went ahead with Karthik. Otherwise Pant was almost there.”
On Tuesday, India had opted to retain Dhawan and monitor his recovery rather than name an official replacement for him. He has already been ruled out of the two matches India are scheduled to play later this week: against New Zealand at Trent Bridge on Thursday, and against Pakistan at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Dhawan had travelled to Leeds to consult specialists, where the fracture was ascertained. ESPNcricinfo understands the selectors have got a positive signal from the medical team that Dhawan is likely to be fit to play in the latter half of the tournament, closer to the June 30 match against hosts England.
*13.50GMT, June 12: The story was updated with Bangar’s quotes