Raina bats for Pant, says presence of left-hander with Hardik could be X factor
Former batter Suresh Raina feels the left-handed Rishabh Pant could be the X factor for India alongside Hardik Pandya in the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup.
With all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja's injury ruling him out of the tournament, Pant, who has an excellent record in Australia, could do what the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Raina once did along with former skipper MS Dhoni.
Under Dhoni, India triumphed in the inaugural World T20 in 2007, the 2011 ODI World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy, the last ICC tournament the team has won.
"I would say the presence of a left-handed batter would be very important in the middle," Raina said in an exclusive interview with PTI on Friday.
He added: "From No. 1-6, we don't have a left-hander and I'm sure the opponents will have two-three left-handed bowlers. We have seen it in the past -- 2007, 2011 and 2013 -- the role Gauti, Yuvi Pa and I played."
"You need to bring the X factor with Hardik and who can be the X factor? I think Rishabh being a left-hander could be better," the 35-year-old responded to a query whether India should prefer Pant over Dinesh Karthik as the wicket-keeper batter.
A member of the 2011 World Cup and 2013 Champions Trophy winning teams, Raina further said the left-right combination in the middle is needed to upset the rhythm of the rival bowlers.
"When Yuvi Pa and I played, we would scare the opponents. Now Rahul, Rohit will have to decide how they have to go about it. I'm sure they must be thinking over it, but whoever they play, we have to win."
Karthik has been the designated finisher of the team but it's unlikely that India would go for two wicketkeeper batters in the same playing XI.
"DK has got an opportunity, he has been given a role. But I'm not saying whether they should prefer Pant over DK. Whoever gets a chance, needs to take a lot of responsibility and win the game," said Raina, the first Indian to hit centuries in all the three formats of the game.
"A left-right combination can upset the rhythm, especially when the grounds in Australia are big. It's important to have a left-handed batter in the middle. Pant has done really well in Australia and won the Test series there. So we'll see."
While the top-four looks solid and needs to give a perfect start, Raina feels star all-rounder Pandya would be the key for India.
"Remember Pandya would be the main player for Team India. He will bowl those crucial overs in the powerplay and some in the middle and his role would be most important when he comes on to bat, when we would be needing 60-70 runs off 30 balls. So his role would be very important for Team India to win the World Cup."
The Indian top-four batters have been in good touch and Raina said they need to score big to take the pressure off Hardik.
"The opening partnership between Rohit and KL will be very, very crucial, they have all the big shots in their repertoire. Then we have the likes of Virat, Surya in top-four."
"They have to score big runs as if you go deep, you don't have any other batter other than Hardik who can go for the chase."
Showing full faith in skipper Rohit, he said: "He was there when India won the first World Cup in 2007, now he's gone there as a captain. I'm sure he can bring back the trophy home."
"I feel the team is in full form, we have ticked all the boxes. It's about playing 40 overs well, and taking one game at a time. So getting a good start against Pakistan and taking the momentum will be very important."
"It won't be easy, they have to play their A game, there will be pressure, they have to work hard. Australia, England are looking strong and Pakistan and New Zealand both are doing well."
Picking veteran pacer Mohammed Shami in place of the injured Jasprit Bumrah is a perfect move, Raina said.
"Bumrah is our No. 1 bowler but we can only control the controllables and Shami is the perfect replacement for him. It's true that he has not played for a long time but his seam position and hard decks in Australia would be handy."
Raina, who has been signed as Booking.com's brand ambassador for the upcoming World Cup, is all set to travel to Australia and Holland, and will watch the final on November 13.