In less than a year, cricket teams from across the globe will land in Australia to play the World Cup T20.
India has jumped to the top of the table in the 2019 Cricket World Cup thanks to magnificent batting by Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Lokesh Rahul and accurate fast bowling by Jasprit Bumrah.
But their selection policy defies logic. Why include three wicketkeepers – MS Dhoni, Rishbah Pant and Dinesh Karthik – in their XI? Pant and Karthik have not fired but still Kohli and his fellow selectors continue with this absurd selection. Why?
Is it because England in this CWC has picked two wicketkeepers – Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow – in their team? Buttler keeps the wickets while Bairstow scores runs as the opening batsman.
This is not so for Pant and Karthik.
In England’s last two matches Bairstow scored 106 against New Zealand and 111against India. A fortnight ago he had made 90 against Afghanistan. So his inclusion is justified.
A wicketkeeper in a team is like a pianist in an orchestra. There is room for only one.
This is changing of late. England selectors have this policy of multiple wicketkeepers at Test level. They set a record in the Test series against Sri Lanka in Colombo in November 2018 when they fielded three wicketkeepers: Bairstow, Buttler and Ben Foakes. The first two ran in the deep as fielders and scoring runs while Foakes donned gloves and pads.
Batting at No. 3 in the above Test, Bairstow top-scored with 110 runs, hitting nine fours and a six. He had to overcome some painful bouts of cramp in the intense heat and humidity. This was caused in part by his immobility while wearing a cast on his foot, following the ankle injury he had sustained while warming up in a game of football during the one-day series. He also appeared disappointed not wearing the keepers gloves.
According to Andrew Miller of ESPNcricinfo: “Bairstow insisted that his instant success as England’s new No. 3 would not distract him from his ultimate goal of winning back the Test wicketkeeper’s role, after his emotionally charged century had underpinned England’s batting on the first day of the third Test at Colombo last year”.
According to Bairstow, “The bits behind the scenes, when you’re doing your rehab and sleeping on an ice machine, the things that people don’t see and yet have an opinion on it. It’s all well and good when things are going well and people have an opinion on how well you’re playing, but it’s the hidden things that they don’t see”.
Bairstow’s injury was behind Foakes making his Test debut as a keeper. Foakes’s century on debut at Galle, in addition to his faultless glove work, made selectors prefer him as their wicketkeeper of choice. It was only the injury to England’s batsman Sam Curran that Bairstow was handed an opportunity to return to the team as a specialist No. 3 batsman.
What about Buttler? He is the selectors’ choice as a wicketkeeper-batsman in limited-overs cricket, as also in the current World Cup, but as a specialist batsman at Test level.
If you think three wicketkeepers – Foakes, Bairstow and Buttler – in one Test is unique, listen to this. A bizarre record was set in the Lord’s Test of July 1986 between England and New Zealand.
During New Zealand’s first innings the wicketkeeping duties were shared by four players, Bill Athey (first two overs), Bob Taylor (overs three to 76), Bobby Parks (overs 77 to 140) and Bruce French (the final ball).
Karthik Parimal of ESPNcricinfo headlining his story A tale of four Bs wrote, “On July 25, 1986, England fielded four wicketkeepers at various times, owing to an injury to the original man Bruce French. Two of the substitutes included Bob Taylor — the legend who was already two years into his retirement and Bobby Parks — the Hampshire cricketer who never donned a Test cap again”.
Of the four, only Athey and French were in the Test XI. My question to Roar readers: “Were substitutes allowed to keep wickets in the past?”.
Coming back to the present, if India wants to win the semi-final against New Zealand tonight and win the World Cup on Sunday, they better replace Pant and Karthik by quickie Mohammad Shami and all-rounder Kedar Jadhav.