‘It’s a big headache’, but Pujara expects India to pick Pant ahead of Karthik
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Who does the finishing job then? Hardik Pandya is the best option, says the India Test batter

Cheteshwar Pujara called the task of picking one of Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant in the India XI for the Asia Cup game against Pakistan a “big headache”. But, unless both are fielded, one has to miss out, and Pujara picked Pant over Karthik for a spot in the team.

“Firstly, it’s a big headache for the team management as both [Pant and Karthik] are doing really well in the T20 format,” Pujara said on ESPNcricinfo’s T20 Time Out programme ahead of the India vs Pakistan game in Dubai. “The tough call is whether you want someone to bat at No. 5 or you want a finisher who can bat at No. 6 or 7.

“So, I would say, if you want someone at No. 5, Rishabh Pant is a better choice. But if you want your batting line-up to have a very good finisher who is likely to play ten or 20 balls and give you 40-50 runs, I think DK [Karthik] is the better option.”

With India trying out a number of players over the last few months for one reason or another, both Pant and Karthik have had decent runs in the format. But now Virat Kohli is back, and all of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya are around, which has changed the scenario.

Those names, however, don’t include a left-hander, another reason Pant might pip Karthik to the post, Pujara reasoned. “Personally, knowing the team management (and) knowing how things work around the Indian team, I would think they might go with Rishabh Pant because he is a left-hander and that gives the team a bit of balance with a left-and-right combination.

But how about both figuring in the playing XI? Possibly at the expense of a top-order batter? If the top three of Rohit, Rahul and Kohli is fixed, could Suryakumar make way?

“Suryakumar is one of our top T20 players, so I would definitely want him in the side because he can win you games… he is someone who has done really well for Mumbai Indians [in the IPL],” Pujara said. “Whenever I’ve seen him at No. 4, he has done exceptionally well.

“So I don’t think the team management will leave him out. If Rishabh and Karthik both have to play, then I think you have to drop one of the top-order [batters], which is impossible. So I don’t think both can make the XI.”

Karthik has been India’s finisher of choice in T20Is this year. He boasts of a strike rate of 171.60 in the death overs in 2022 and has the ability to manufacture shots soon after getting in. If he is dropped, who does that job?

“I would prefer Hardik to do that role,” Pujara said. “He is someone who can strike from ball one, and his strike rate is always above 150. I don’t think Rishabh can do that job because he needs a little more time. And if he [Pant] comes in to bat, it should be somewhere around ten or 12 overs. And if he gets eight-ten overs, he can score a 50 or a bit more than that.”

The India vs Pakistan game will be played in Dubai, where Pakistan beat India by ten wickets at the T20 World Cup last year – it was Pakistan’s first win over India in any World Cup, ODI or T20I.

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