Ahead of the highly-anticipated 2023 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, former India head coach Ravi Shastri believes he would look for the better keeper between KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan for the vacant wicketkeeper-batter spot in India's playing eleven ahead of first Test against Australia.
With Rishabh Pant ruled out of an indefinite period due to injuries suffered in a horrific car accident, India have to make a choice between two uncapped wicketkeepers in Bharat and Ishan ahead of the first Test against Australia, starting from February 9 in Nagpur.
Bharat has been the second keeper in the Test squad for almost three years apart from being a regular fixture in India A matches, while Kishan is more of a like-for-like replacement for Pant.
"When it comes to the two people out there, Ishan Kishan or KS Bharat, I think what you will have to do is what the pitch is going to play like. I would see if it's going to turn, then I would look for the better keeper and that's a decision the team management will have to make."
"The better keeper is because guys like (Ravindra) Jadeja, Kuldeep (Yadav), (Ravichandran) Ashwin, Axar (Patel), they will need a good keeper behind the stumps because that will get the confidence going of the keeper as well."
"That will be a tough choice on who is your better keeper. Whoever he is, he will be my first choice," said Shastri while responding to a question from IANS in a press conference organised by Star Sports, the official broadcaster of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
While the Indian team management and fans wonder over who will be the wicketkeeper for the hosts' in the first Test and possibly, the whole series, one can't ignore the huge void left by Pant's absence from the team. From 33 Test matches, Pant has amassed 2,271 runs, averaging 43.67 and effected 133 dismissals as a wicketkeeper.
"Now that's a really tough call. That's how important Rishabh Pant is. He ticks both the boxes like, behind the stumps. Not only has his keeping improved drastically, but he can also get under the skin of the batters. That's one very important thing that he has when he keeps."
"But as a batsman, he's so dangerous that he can turn a game on its head. In fact, he's played more match winning innings than top five Indian batsmen in the last two-three years when it mattered the most.
That's a big blow," added Shastri. Since 2020, Pant has scored the most runs for India in Tests, amassing 1517 runs in 38 innings, averaging 43.3, which swells to 62.4 when facing Australia in the format.
In the 2018/19 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, he made 350 runs from four matches, including an unbeaten 159 at Sydney, averaging 58.33 and took 20 catches. In the 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Pant scored 274 runs from three matches at an average of 68.50 apart from taking eight catches.
He had enthralled fans all over the world with his knocks of 97 at Sydney and 89 not out at Brisbane, leading the chase of 328 to secure an unforgettable 2-1 series victory for the second straight time in Australia.
"India are really going to miss Rishabh Pant and I think where the Australians will be happy with him not being there is in his approach to the game. He's a counter-attacker and speaking as a captain, he scores really quickly and can change the match in one session."
"Rishabh Pant is that sort of player and he's now one player which Australians don't have to worry about and they will be delighted by that," stated former Australia captain Ian Chappell.
Australia and India, currently ranked number one and two respectively in both ICC Men's Test Team Rankings and the ongoing ICC World Test Championship 2023 cycle, will meet in a highly-anticipated four-match series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to be held in Nagpur (February 9-13), New Delhi (February 17-21), Dharamshala (March 1-5) and Ahmedabad (March 9-13).
India are the current holders of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, having won the last three series against Australia in 2017, 2018-19 and 2020-21. Australia, on the other hand, are aiming to win a Test series in India after having done so last time in 2004.