Moneycontrol PRO
you are here: HomeNewsCricket

KS Bharat should get preference as a Test wicketkeeper

For the record, he has 296 catches and 35 stumpings in 86 first-class matches spanning a decade. Bharat has scored 4,707 runs at an average of 37.95, with nine hundreds and 27 fifties.

February 06, 2023 / 09:03 PM IST
Image Ctsy: @KonaBharat

Image Ctsy: @KonaBharat

India will certainly miss the services of Rishabh Pant behind the stumps as much as in front of them in the upcoming Border-Gavaskar Trophy four-Test series against Australia. Pant has not only improved his wicketkeeping skills — 133 dismissals (119 catches and 14 stumpings) in 33 Tests — but also has played many defining innings that have either won or saved matches for India. His knocks that come to mind are the 89 not out in Brisbane to lead India to a win, and 97 in Sydney to help India draw, both coming on the exciting final day of play during the 2020-21 tour of Australia.

Of course, while Pant can change the course of the match with his blitzkrieg batting in one session, he has also often thrown away his wicket. Having said that, it must also be said that Pant has become indispensable to the team.

However, an unfortunate car accident late December 2022 has forced him out of action for long, and his absence has opened the door for reserve wicketkeeper Kona Srikar Bharat’s debut. The wait has been worth it as Bharat has honed his wicketkeeping skills in the shadows of Pant and senior wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has named Bharat and Ishan Kishan as the wicketkeepers in the squad for the first two Tests of the series. While Kishan has been India’s wicketkeeper in recent white-ball tournaments, especially due to the absence of Pant, it is unlikely that the 24-year-old from Jharkhand would be selected for the Tests ahead of Bharat.

Bharat has been groomed as India’s next wicketkeeper from his India ‘A’ days. He has been a part of the Indian Test team as a reserve wicketkeeper for a couple of years but did not get a chance because of the presence of Saha and Pant.

Bharat has also had a taste of Test cricket. His chance to don the wicketkeeping gloves came in the first Test against New Zealand in Kanpur in November 2021, after the substitution rules were changed five years ago to allow substitutes to keep wickets – law 24.1.2 states that “A substitute shall not bowl or act as captain but may act as a wicketkeeper with the consent of the umpires.” Bharat kept wickets for a major part of the first innings and the whole of the second innings after Saha was down with a stiff neck in that match against New Zealand.

Bharat did a brilliant job behind the stumps, especially with respect to the spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Axar Patel— as the ball turned sharply. He took two excellent catches to get rid of Will Young off Ashwin and Ross Taylor off Patel, while also effecting a smart stumping to remove Tom Latham off Patel, all in the first innings.

Former Chief Selector and India wicketkeeper MSK Prasad has said that now is the time for Bharat to be given the chance and that Kishan has to wait. Another former India stumper, Saba Karim, agreed with Prasad but said that Kishan could be a like-for-like replacement for Pant given his attacking style of batting.

Like Saha once said to this scribe, the one who spends more quality time in the practice sessions leading up to the Test would be the preferred wicketkeeper.

The Indian team also has the option of using Vice-Captain KL Rahul as a wicketkeeper. Though Rahul has kept wickets in T20Is and ODIs, it is highly unlikely that he will be asked to don the gloves as keeping in Tests requires greater skills than just filling the gap.

The great Rahul Dravid kept wickets in ODIs with aplomb to lend balance to the team in the 2000s. But Dravid did not keep in Tests. As head coach, Dravid will not make the mistake of asking Rahul to keep wickets, and will likely pick Bharat ahead of Kishan.

For the record, Bharat has 296 catches and 35 stumpings in 86 first-class matches spanning a decade. He has scored 4,707 runs at an average of 37.95, with nine hundreds and 27 fifties. Bharat would be the ideal choice for the wicketkeeper’s slot and should be India’s Test cap number 303 come Thursday, in Nagpur.

Guru Krishnan