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By Prabir Biswas

Speculation is again rife about senior cricketer and wicketkeeper-batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s comeback into the Indian team after BCCI president Saurav Ganguly made it clear recently that there is enough time to take a call on Dhoni and the clouds of speculation regarding his retirement will clear in a few months’ time. Dhoni himself has said that the question of his retirement or comeback will only arise after January. As of now he is on a sabbatical.

There may be various shades of opinion about whether Dhoni should be considered for the playing eleven in the Indian team which seems to be well-knitted and is on a winning spree. There could be endless debates on whether Mahi is well past his prime as a master blaster batsman and ace finisher, whether he is still “like a flash” behind the wickets and whether his mind still works as a master strategist in scheming strategies to outsmart the opposition. But the fact remains that India is still searching for a proper replacement.

As of now, Wriddhiman Saha’s brilliant performance against Bangladesh in the Test series—especially the pink ball Test at the Eden Gardens—has sealed his place in the Test team. But what is the option for one-dayers and T20s?

The man who was thought as a replacement for Dhoni has failed to grab the chances offered to him by the team management. Yes we are talking about Rishabh Pant, the flamboyant left-hander who as a fearless campaigner is a match winner on his day. But that day hasn’t come too often and inconsistency has become his bugbear. That the patience of all is now running out thin can be summed up by the words of cricket legend VVS Laxman when he recently said that either Pant should make the best of the opportunities given to him and revive the faith reposed in him by the team management or he should make way for another promising wicket-keeper batsman Sanju Samson.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Team India has projected Rishabh Pant as an able alternative to Dhoni right after the World Cup in England this year. The young promising cricketer from Delhi was played in series after series to give him enough international exposure. But he failed to live up to the expectations and lift his game. He could not cement his place in the Test XI. And Virat Kohli and his boys had to look up to Wriddhiman Saha in recent times when India played against South Africa and Bangladesh.

The fact that Samson has been included in the side for the ensuing T20 cricket against the West Indies next month is an ominous sign for Pant. The team management has given enough indications to Pant that they are thinking positively about Samson as a replacement and that should be a warning signal for Pant to pull up his socks. Shape up or ship out is the message. It is a do or die situation for Pant. He is talented, fearless, and can change the course of any game, win it for India when the chips are down. But he needs to go out and express himself to his full potential. His performance must do the talking. He has to walk the talk to redeem himself. An all-rounder of his caliber in limited overs’ cricket is still hard to find and the team management is well-aware of his skills. But all said and done, Pant will have to perform or he may perish like a star from the horizon.

One of the legends of wicket-keeping from Australia Adam Gilchrist recently said that Pant will have to develop his own identity and not try to become another Dhoni. However, he should learn enough from Dhoni’s life and his path to success hone his skills in that direction and work harder. Become an incorrigible Pant instead, he said.

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