With questions about India's No. 4 batsman in ODIs yet to be answered, Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly have thrown their weight behind wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant. The former Australia and India captains not only backed Pant to find a place in the India's World Cup squad but also picked him to slot in at No. 4 in the starting XI.
"The first thing I'll do if I were an Indian selector is I'd pick him in the World Cup squad, and play him as a batsman," Ponting, the head coach of Delhi Capitals, the IPL franchise Pant is a part of, said at an event on Tuesday. "I'll play him at No. 4 in the Indian team. He's the sort of guy, with that sort of talent, who can win you the World Cup. He's just got that X-factor about him that can win you the World Cup."
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Ganguly, the newly appointed advisor to the Capitals, echoed Ponting's thoughts.
"If you can put Rishabh up at No. 4, he'll score runs for you because he's just so talented," Ganguly said. "He's got so much time to play fast bowling that you can't see Rishabh Pant failing at the top level. And he hasn't actually. In his short career, he's been remarkable for India, and once gets more opportunities, he'll be a very different player."
Ganguly's views on Pant come four days after he sprung the name of a surprise contender for the same spot: Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara. In an interview to India TV, Ganguly had said Pujara is the "best choice" among the candidates, including Vijay Shankar, Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu and Pant himself, who have trialled for the slot in the ODI series in Australia and New Zealand this year.
"There are quite a few choices," Ganguly said of the options India could look at. "I spoke of Pujara because he's in very good form, batted so well in Australia. I saw Rahul Dravid during my time play one-day cricket at No. 4, No. 5. He was given a role. So I think if you're not getting good options for your No. 4 who are among the runs, you can consider [Pujara].
"But Rishabh Pant is also an option at No. 4 for India, and so is Ambati Rayudu. When I look at this from a distance, I feel Virat Kohli knows in his head who India's No. 4 batsman is. We may keep offering our opinions, but Virat Kohli knows deep down who his No. 4 is for the World Cup.
"This series [ODIs against Australia], he tried a bit. He gave others an opportunity to see if he can find anyone different before the World Cup, to see what a Vijay Shankar does, what Pant does, but as a captain he'll surely speak to his players, 'Listen this is what I'm doing, but I know who's going to be my player, and this is the way it's going to go.'"
Ganguly also brushed aside criticism around Pant's temperament in the shorter format - he has two centuries from nine Tests and an average of 49.71, but averages 23.25 in ODIs and 19.41 in T20Is. The flak, according to Ganguly, that Pant may have drawn at himself is not well-reasoned and is, to a large part, down to his not having got a consistent run in limited-overs cricket.
"Look at the way he [Pant] played in the IPL last season," Ganguly said. "He got a full tournament to play, 14 games, and was the second-highest run-getter in the IPL. The problem with him in the shorter format is he doesn't get regular cricket. You have a champion in MS Dhoni who actually plays most of the shorter format. So you have Rishabh coming in and going out all the time, and that's never good for anybody, however quality a player you are."
Ganguly also talked up Pant's natural talent, which helped him hit brisk hundreds on his debut Test tour, in England last August-September, and more recently in Australia. For Ganguly, much of India's fortunes with the bat - across formats - over the next decade will revolve around Pant, whom he dubbed as "the future" of Indian cricket.
"The reason he succeeds in Test cricket is because he plays it consistently," Ganguly said. "How many batsmen, Indian wicketkeeper-batsmen, have got Test hundreds in England Australia? And he scored them at ease. It's not that he struggled, or looked out of place when it was fast and pacy. For me, he is the future.
"For the next ten years, you'll see that boy in all formats of the game. Not because he plays for Delhi (Capitals), he can play for anybody he wants. Just seeing his talent; he's a hard worker, I've been watching him in the nets for the past four years. He's always the first one to come out, bat for longer periods, get into the gym and train. He'll be a huge asset to Indian cricket for years to come."
Ganguly underscored the importance of assessing the performance of someone like Pant over a period of time.
"Anybody you pick, you have to remain consistent with them for a period of time, in any format of cricket," Ganguly said. "Whether it's Kohli, [Shikhar] Dhawan, Rayudu, or a young player who'll come in four-five years down the line, you have to make him believe that he's good, that he's part of this system and the team who you think can win you the competition, and then allow him to move freely.
"You can put pressure, but not to the point that he breaks. That's the fine balance every coach every captain needs to bring to his side, and Virat knows that very well."