Pant is no ordinary wicketkeeper. Not only does he average 43.67 in an era of relatively low batting averages, but he also strikes at 74, often while batting in the top six, sometimes at five, breaking the monotone of right-handers in the Indian top order. Against Australia, he averages 62.40, and that is in Australia.
There is little doubt that he will be sorely missed, for a car crash has almost certainly put an end to his chances of making it to the Test side for the series, scheduled to begin in February.
Pant bolstered a batting order marred by Rohit Sharma’s injuries, KL Rahul’s form, and Virat Kohli’s uncharacteristic dry run. His will be massive boots to fill, but India do have several options to choose from.
Eight options to replace Rishabh Pant as India’s Test wicketkeeper
KS Bharat, Andhra (84 first-class matches, 4,533 runs @ 37.46, Ct: 289, St: 34)
Upendra Yadav, Railways (32 first-class matches, 1,390 runs @ 44.83, Ct: 112, St: 15)
Once a key part of the India A setup, KS Bharat graduated to being the reserve wicketkeeper of the India Test squad in the absence of one of Pant and Wriddhiman Saha. Substituting for Saha in the Kanpur Test match against New Zealand at a 12-minute notice, Bharat impressed with two catches and a stumping. One of the catches, of Will Young off R Ashwin, earned him accolades.
Of all the options, Bharat has come the closest to keeping wickets in a Test match in recent past. In December, he had an excellent outing for India A against Bangladesh in Sylhet, scoring 77 and effecting five dismissals, and has been Pant’s understudy in the Test outfit for some time now.
Hot on Bharat’s heels is Upendra Yadav, three years younger, a superior batter and neat behind the stumps. He has kept wicket for India A when Bharat is summoned to the Test squad. Last month, he made 71 not out and held five catches against Bangladesh A in Cox’s Bazar.
The less likely
Ishan Kishan, Jharkhand (48 first-class matches, 2,985 runs @ 38.76, Ct: 99, St: 11)
Sanju Samson, Kerala (58 first-class matches, 3,446 runs @ 38.71, Ct: 79, St: 7)
Akshay Wadkar, Vidarbha (37 first-class matches, 2,360 runs @ 57.56, Ct: 92, St: 14)
Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson have near-identical first-class batting averages, excellent records over small ODI careers, and reasonable stock value at the IPL. Yet, in first-class cricket, their batting has been roughly as good as Bharat’s, but the Andhra man has the best glovework of the trio. Even one of them is picked in the squad, they are unlikely to make it to the XI ahead of Bharat.
Of the two, however, Samson is likelier. Kishan did keep wicket for India A on the tour of South Africa a year ago, but for Jharkhand, he has relinquished the gloves to Kumar Kushagra. Will India back him as a wicketkeeper when he doesn’t do the job for his state?
Akshay Wadkar is another matter. A star of Vidarbha’s first two Ranji Trophy titles, he has got only better since then. Over the last two editions – the previous season and the ongoing one – he averages 80.86. And no Indian wicketkeeper has ever had a better batting average than that 57.56. But he is yet to receive any type of international recognition, so a national call-up is unlikely.
The very unlikely
KL Rahul, Karnataka (45 Tests, 2,604 runs @ 34.26, Ct: 52)
Sarfaraz Khan (34 first-class matches, 3,175 runs @ 77.43, Ct: 35)
Despite his ordinary form, Rahul, the vice-captain of the Test side and the last man to lead India, is likely to play the series. Sarfaraz’s first-class average has been the talk of the cricket fraternity for some time. They do don the gloves in limited-overs cricket, which is why they are part of this list, but they have not done that frequently enough in first-class cricket to warrant consideration – and that is an understatement.
Rahul has played as a wicketkeeper in the format only once – when both Pant and Saha reported unfit ahead of the touring Indians’ match against a County Select XI on their 2021 tour of England. Sarfaraz, never.
The dark horse
Wriddhiman Saha (40 Tests, 1,353 runs @ 29.41, Ct: 92, St: 12)
Based on glovework alone, Saha is arguably the best wicketkeeper India has ever produced. However, by the time MS Dhoni retired, Saha had been ageing, and the myriad injuries certainly did not help his cause. Nearly a year ago, a 37-year-old Saha revealed that the Indian team management had told him that they would be looking at other wicketkeepers.
But that had been when Pant was the undisputed first-choice wicketkeeper of the Test XI. At 38, Saha has switched base to Tripura, and has been plundering runs (66, 27 not out against Vidarbha, 101 against Punjab), while his wicketkeeping credentials are intact. The last time Australia toured India, in 2016/17, Saha made an excellent 117 in Ranchi on either side of two crucial cameos.
Will India recall the veteran, a few months after they summoned another old pro, Dinesh Karthik, in the shortest format?