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IPL 2024

Who is leading the race to be India’s T20 World Cup wicketkeeper?

WK race for T20 WC
by Naman Agarwal 4 minute read

Nearly halfway into IPL 2024, the race to be India’s wicketkeeper at the T20 World Cup is tighter than it was before.

One of the running themes of IPL 2024 has been players virtually auditioning for selection at the upcoming T20 World Cup. Among all the spots up for grabs in the Indian T20I team, the wicketkeeper’s slot was the most hotly contested one when the season began: five, if not six, contenders were vying for one vacancy in the XI and maybe two in the squad.

Thirty-one matches in, a couple of them seem to have dropped out of the race, while a new (or rather, old) one has made a wild card entry.

All the wicketkeepers in the fray can be widely categorised into three types based on their batting positions. The openers (Ishan Kishan and KL Rahul); the middle-order bats (Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant, and Jitesh Sharma); and the finishers (Dhruv Jurel and Dinesh Karthik).

The openers – Rahul and Kishan

Both Rahul and Kishan have been among runs. They have similar averages so far (Rahul 34, Kishan 30.7), but their scoring rates have been vastly different: Rahul has scored at a strike rate of 138.8 while Kishan has gone at 178.6.

India already have an abundance of options to choose from when it comes to the opening slot. As captain, Rohit Sharma is a sure starter, while Yashasvi Jaiswal is the incumbent. Jaiswal has not had a great IPL so far, and that can catapult Virat Kohli, the leading scorer at the time of writing, into the opening position.

For either Rahul or Kishan to break through the pecking order, they need to provide a point of difference from the current options. Rahul, with his sub-par scoring rate, has not inspired much confidence. Kishan, however, has helped himself with his blazing starts at the top.

Middle order bats – Samson, Pant, Jitesh

Jitesh was the incumbent wicketkeeper heading into the IPL. However, with just 106 runs at an average of 17 and a strike rate of 130, he has been all but displaced from that spot, especially with several other competitors turning up the heat.

Samson has scored 276 runs at 55 and 155. Guilty of starting seasons on a bang before fizzling out, he has already matched his personal best three fifty-plus scores in a season, and is looking set for more. Playing at No.3 for the Royals, the best way he can fit into the India XI would be at No.4, with Kohli opening and Suryakumar Yadav at three.

He does, however, have strong competition from the comeback man Pant. Having struggled a bit in the first few games, Pant seems to be close to his best as his strike rate of 157, his highest since 2019, suggests. Among all the contenders, he fits in the best at No.5, the position where the wicketkeeper is most likely to play and is the only left-hander among the non-opening options.

Finishers – DK and Jurel

Jurel shot into limelight as a finisher for Rajasthan Royals last season and impressed in his debut Test series earlier this year. He was expected to be a dark horse in the wicketkeeper’s race but the rarity of batting opportunities he has had in IPL 2024 has virtually meant that he has dropped out before even starting. He has made only 50 runs so far, while striking at 119.

Meanwhile the 38-year-old Karthik has appeared as a strong contender. He was India’s first-choice keeper at the last T20 World Cup as well. Having already announced that this will be his last IPL season, no one expected him to be near the discussions surrounding the World Cup squad. Yet, seven games into the season, he averages 113 and has a strike rate of 205, both personal bests. If the earlier cameos and rescue acts were not enough, the rearguard blitzkrieg at Chinnaswamy against SRH has catapulted him into contention for the World Cup.

With Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, two first-choice all-rounders and the designated finishers for India not inspiring any confidence with their death-overs hitting, Karthik has a good chance of making it into the WC XI at No.6 if he continues his current form.

Who stands where?

Pant, whom the BCCI secretary backed for a T20 World Cup spot before the season began, is clearly the frontrunner with Samson close on his heels.

However, if Karthik keeps his shenanigans going, he may leapfrog Samson, and perhaps even Pant given the uniqueness of his skills.

Kishan may not be in the top three options at the moment, but the selectors will have a close eye on him as a back up option. As for Jitesh, Jurel, and Rahul, only something outlandish can get them back in the race.

Pecking order: Pant, Samson, Karthik, Kishan, Rahul, Jitesh, Jurel.

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