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Rediff.com  » Cricket » 'Rishabh Pant could open the batting in T20s, like Sachin in ODIs'

'Rishabh Pant could open the batting in T20s, like Sachin in ODIs'

By HARISH KOTIAN
Last updated on: June 27, 2024 20:16 IST
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'I am sure Rohit's innings will have inspired Virat Kohli to come up with something special in this crunch semi final.'

IMAGE: One of India's star players, Rishabh Pant has made an amazing comeback to competitive cricket, following a 14-month injury lay-off due to a near-fatal accident in December 2022. Photograph: BCCI/X

Former player and national selector Jatin Paranjape is all praise for India's superb showing at the ongoing T20 World Cup.

 

India won all their matches in the group stage and the Super 8 stage to cruise into the semi-finals where they will take on England later on Thursday.

Paranjape is highly impressed with Rohit Sharma's astute captaincy and believes he is the kind of leader who walks the talk. He believes that this could be the last time we see Rohit and Virat Kohli playing for India in the T20 World Cup.

The former Mumbai player, who featured in four ODIs for India in 1998 and was part of the selection committee for nearly four years, reveals he was quite emotional when he saw Rishabh Pant back on the field during the T20 World Cup after a series car crash nearly ended his career.

"I have a feeling that after a certain transition happens, you could see Rishabh Pant opening the batting for India in T20 cricket, the way Sachin Tendulkar started opening in ODI cricket and had a fantastic career," he tells Harish Kotian/Rediff.com in an exclusive interview as he discusses India's showing at the T20 World Cup.

Paranjape, who also enjoyed a long stint with global sports giant Nike, has been busy working at the grassroots level to uplift sports participation through his venture KheloMore.

What has been the key to India's winning run at the T20 World Cup? They faced some tough pitches in the group stages in New York where the bowlers came to the party and then in the good pitches in the West Indies the batters have been taking responsibility.

I think the key factor in the first two-three games has been our fast bowling, because the pitches were suited to that in the US. I thought we bottled up the opposition really well there and  then slowly the entire batting unit is now clicking. Even Virat got 37 two games back (against Bangladesh), and Rohit was terrific in the last game against Australia.

I think the batting unit has started doing the heavy lifting in the last couple of games and going forward, because the wickets will remain good for the next two matches, it's very important that Jadeja starts bowling up to his normal standards.

The point I am making is that is that the middle overs, when we are bowling, going to be extremely important. And then you drill down to three bowlers, because these three spinners will bowl in the middle overs -- Kuldeep, Axar and Jadeja.

Kuldeep is already bowling superbly, but I think Axar and Jadeja need to support him in those crucial 7-8 overs phase in the middle overs. And last couple of games, I thought both Axar and Jadeja were below par.

England seem to have rediscovered their form after a slow start. One of the key factors behind their good showing in the last few games has been their two big-hitting openers in Jos Buttler and Philip Salt. How decisive will the Powerplay phase be against England?

It will be extremely important and I think you will see Bumrah bowling two overs in the Powerplay against England.

I feel they will try and slip in one over from Jadeja because, if I am not mistaken, the top three of the English players are all right-handers. So Arshdeep will bowl two overs, Bumrah will bowl two and they might try to slip in an over or two from Axar and Jadeja in the Powerplay.

But as you said, England not only does well in the Powerplay, they also have very good strike rates from over No 7 to 10 as well where, if I am not mistaken, they are still going at around a strike rate of around 120-130 in those in those four overs.

So for me, actually it's the first 10 overs of the match which becomes really crucial when we are bowling and that's why I mentioned that out of those 10 overs, three or four of them will be bowled by Axar and Jadeja.

It is important that we don't let them get off to a flier, but against England, I see we are the favorites, to be honest with you. I feel the last match versus Australia was worthy of a final and I would say we passed our toughest test in the last match.

A word on Rishabh Pant's superb comeback after that horrific car crash. He is playing as if he never went away despite the 14-month injury lay-off. You were the selector I think when he first came into the Indian team. What do you make of his determination to fight against odds and make such an inspired comeback to cricket?

I get very emotional seeing Rishabh Pant on the ground, to be honest. As you said, that accident could have gone either way, and from what I got to know from the support staff at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, the months and months of hard work which he had put in, I was told that he did not miss a single session, he was never late by one minute for any session, so he put his heart and soul into it.

Luckily for everybody, he has come back. His wicket keeping during the IPL also was extremely impressive for me and this will remain his consistent spot in T20 cricket.

If not this, I have a feeling that after a certain transition happens, you could see Rishabh Pant opening the batting for India in T20 cricket, the way Sachin Tendulkar started opening in ODI cricket and had a fantastic career. I think Rishabh Pant might, might have a career as an opening batsman in T20 cricket and who knows, maybe in even in one-day cricket.

IMAGE: Captain Rohit Sharma's brilliant counter-attacking knock helped India overpower Australia in the Super 8s match. Photograph: BCCI/X

Rohit Sharma played an outstanding knock against Australia, he showed the team how to bat in the Powerplay against Australia. Will that brilliant knock act like a turning point for India ahead of the big game against England and possibly the final?

Right from before the start of the ODI World Cup last year, I have been saying that Rohit Sharma will go after the opposition bowlers from ball one, and I was proved right because even in the World Cup, he really tore into each and every opposition and he is doing the same thing in T20 cricket.

So this tells you a lot about Rohit Sharma, the leader, wherein he is taking up the risky job of going after the opposition, and because that's the team strategy. So they have a team strategy that they will go after the opposition and the captain puts his hand up and says, 'You know what, I'm going to be the guy who goes after them' and even after 2-3 failures, he has remained true to that strategy.

That tells me a lot about Rohit Sharma, the leader. Even against Starc, after he hit those couple of sixes off the first two balls he did not stop, he kept going. He did not take a single of the third ball and go to the other end, he kept going. And that is a leader kind of walking the talk, so to speak, and that gives a lot of confidence and you earn the respect of all the other players in the team.

You could see Virat Kohli in the last game when Rohit was batting, you know, his expressions from the dugout as well, so I am sure Rohit's innings will have inspired Virat Kohli to come up with something special in this crunch semi final.

Could this be the last time we see Rohit and Kohli playing T20 cricket for India?

I don't think T20 cricket, but maybe this could be their last T20 World Cup. I think that there will still be some months before a T20 transition happens, and that depends on the new coach as well.

How should we look after Jasprit Bumrah? Should he play only major white ball tournaments like the World Cups and focus mostly on Test cricket?

I feel the one-dayers will kind of drop off his plate, so to speak. Now I am sure everybody is thinking about the tour of Australia later this year, where India will play five Test matches. It will be pretty much left to Bumrah to see how his body feels and how much he can do. It will be a consultative effort which will happen with the captain, the team, the NCA, the support staff and Bumrah himself.

IMAGE: Mumbai's Jatin Paranjape played four ODIs for India in 1998 and was part of the selection committee for nearly four years. Photograph: Jatin Paranjape/Instagram

In the coming years, do you see more and more players opt out of red ball cricket even at the domestic level and focus purely on white ball cricket to enhance their game for tournaments like the IPL?

I think that trend will happen in India and outside India as well. But I believe the BCCI will look at it very differently, they will not easily allow players to play only white ball cricket. And whoever becomes the new India coach will also have a say in that.

It's really up to the custodian of the game in the country to kind of have some policy around this. And certain players will only be T20 players, and we all accept. But there will be certain players who play across formats but then choose not to play Test cricket, so then it will be interesting to see how the BCCI deals with that.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com

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