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October 16 2018

Dhoni Or Pant At The 2019 World Cup? Why Not Both?

- by Benny Thompson

With the 2019 World Cup in England just a matter of a few months away, the raging debate in Indian cricketing circles is whether India should go with veteran wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni or the explosive rookie Rishabh Pant.

My question is: why not both?

Since the disastrous Champions Trophy final loss to Pakistan in 2017, India have tried 6 different batsmen at the No. 6 slot, including Dhoni and Ajinkya Rahane, with limited or no success. So why not Pant?

From an explosive batsman who goes at the bowlers right from the onset, he has matured into a batsman who can play up the order and according to the situation. Two seasons of IPL cricket has tutored him on that and more of that was on display during the Test series in England.

He announced his arrival in Test cricket with a whopping six off his second delivery, the first Indian to do that. And two Tests later, he notched up his maiden Test ton, reaching the milestone also with a six. He has followed that up with two consecutive scores of 92 and was unlucky not to reach the three figure mark on both those occasions. With three 50+ scores in consecutive innings and the ability to go over the top whenever the need or the opportunity arises, he has shown enough to suggest he can succeed in the 50 over format as well.

And he has rightfully earned his call up to the 14 man squad for the first 2 ODIs against the West Indies. Maybe playing him at No. 6 could finally solve the long standing issue in the Indian batting setup.

Which brings us back to MS DHoni. So if Pant is to slot in permanently in the Indian ODI XI, does that mean game over for Dhoni? Not in the least. While Pant has excelled as a batsman, he is still struggling as a wicketkeeper at the highest level. He came up short when the ball was moving in England and he was struggling to keep up with Ashwin and Kuldeep’s turn during the West Indies Test series either. There are many technical flaws in his keeping that he needs to fix.

While Dhoni might have slowed down with his run scoring, his keeping is still top notch. His ability with the keeping gloves remains unparalleled in world cricket, so retaining him as the keeper who plays in the middle order to rotate the strike and steady the innings makes perfect sense. While he may not score sixes at will anymore, his running between the wickets remains as quick as ever. And having someone as experienced as Dhoni on the field during the World Cup would be the best thing for skipper Virat Kohli. If there is one person who can keep calm and offer sound advice during a high pressure World Cup situation, it is undoubtedly MS Dhoni.

India will still play 15 ODIs before travelling to England for the World Cup which gives the selectors enough time to try this tactic out and decide if it is working. And going by the way Pant has been playing, something suggests it is indeed going to work out.

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