With his first half-century in ODI cricket in the first game of the series against the West Indies in Chennai, Rishabh Pant finally made his immense potential count in the format. But by the time that three-game series finished, the talking point had once again shifted back to Pant’s limited wicketkeeping skills—after he dropped four catches in the Cuttack ODI alone.
It is no secret that Pant hasn’t been up to scratch behind the stumps, which makes MSK Prasad, chairman of selectors and a former Test wicketkeeper himself, believe that the 22-year-old needs to work with a specialist coach to improve his keeping skills.
So, what is ailing Pant’s keeping? Is it lack of practice, confidence or is he just not a natural? “It’s a combination of everything,” Prasad told HT in an interview.
“See, he is young and is still a work-in-progress. But there is a lot of time ahead for him. Since he got in the Indian side at a young age, he hasn’t played much domestic cricket. That is also one of the reasons,” Prasad added. “I am sure he will come back strong. It’s also good that this has happened early in his career.”
Pant’s limitations with the gloves has now overshadowed his shot-selection with the bat. So much so that he even lost his place in the Test side during India’s home games against South Africa and Bangladesh to Wriddhiman Saha, purely on the basis of glove-work.
Prasad feels that Pant’s struggles with the bat could have played a role in his keeping. “If you don’t keep well, it affects your batting. And if you don’t get runs, it affects your keeping. Whenever you are under pressure, you stiffen up. Your arms, shoulders, biceps, forearms — everything stiffens up. That’s when the ball starts popping out because of hard hands,” he said.
The only way to counter that stiffness is to relax, adds Prasad: “When you are in a relaxed state of mind, the way you receive that ball is different to the way you collect when you are under pressure.”
Prasad’s selection committee has given Pant a long rope. And Pant too has responded by becoming the first Indian wicketkeeper to score a Test hundred in Australia. “If he has that sort of ability, to get Test hundreds in Australia and England, he needs to be backed.” said Prasad.
At 22, Pant has already experienced incredible highs and lows. But Prasad already sees signs of improvement in Pant’s ability to build and pace his innings.
“He is focusing on playing long innings now, rather than going there and trying to hit every ball that he faces. He will learn with age.”
Once he begins scoring big runs more consistently, Pant will automatically be able to take that confidence into his keeping, feels the chief selector. “Just like you look to middle the ball when you’re batting, wicketkeeping is about collecting the ball in the middle of the gloves,” he said.