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If not KS Bharat, then who?

Last updated on 03 Jul 2023 | 01:13 PM
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If not KS Bharat, then who?

Let's look at India’s domestic pool in the wicketkeeping department

India were not ready for a life without Rishabh Pant. The 25-year-old was a cheat code in Test cricket, especially for a team with a fragile top-order. The wicketkeeper-batter was one of the biggest reasons India made it through to the final of the last edition of the World Test Championship, and you never know, things could have turned out differently if he was part of the XI at The Oval earlier in the year. 

With an average of close to 44 in 33 Tests, studded with five centuries and 11 fifties, Pant has saved India on many occasions since his debut in August 2018. If MS Dhoni gave India the belief that even a wicketkeeper-batter can make valuable contributions in Test cricket, Pant has taken it a notch above. In fact, a couple of notches above. He has not only been masking India’s non-performing top-order but has consistently won them games with the bat. Even some unbelievable ones.

However, when Pant had that unfortunate accident in December 2022, India knew they were in deep trouble. The selectors had already made it clear that India have moved on from Wriddhiman Saha, making KS Bharat the obvious replacement. Bharat was never going to match Pant’s credentials with the bat, and India didn’t really miss his services in the home series against Australia, thanks to having the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel and R Ashwin down the order, but such wasn’t the case in the WTC final.

India’s top-order once again failed to deliver, and they didn’t have Pant to rescue them. Bharat got scores of 5 and 23 in the final, and his mediocre Test average of 18.4 came under heavy scrutiny. He has been so poor with the bat that India were almost certain of playing KL Rahul as their wicketkeeper in the WTC final, but the Karnataka batter sustained a thigh injury during the IPL 2023 and had to get surgery done.

Rahul could have been a perfect stop-gap option but there’s no official update on when he will be match-ready. As a result, the management has once again trusted Bharat for the tour of West Indies, but there is also Ishan Kishan in the squad. And, if some reports are to be believed, the latter could actually be picked in the XI ahead of Bharat. 

This tells you how badly India are missing Pant. The focus will largely be on white-ball cricket this year but there are some Tests to be played, first in the West Indies and then in South Africa after the 50-over World Cup. India could always give the gloves to Rahul, but here we have tried to look at some other wicketkeepers in domestic cricket. We are not saying they are ready to play at the highest level, most of them are not, but this article will give you an idea about India’s pool in the wicketkeeping department. 

(All numbers till July 2, 2023)


KS Bharat 

(Innings 143 | Runs 4836 | Average 36.91 | 100s/50s 9/27)

Let’s be honest, this article would have been of no relevance if Bharat would have got even one big score across eight innings in Test cricket. The 29-year-old is no Wriddhiman Saha but his glovework has been safe and solid, but it’s his batting that has got everyone talking about his spot. India’s fragile top-order means they need a wicketkeeper who can contribute with the bat, especially after having gotten used to Dhoni and Pant, but Bharat has looked like a sitting duck in his young five-Test career so far.

In his eight innings, Bharat has scores of 8, 6, 23*, 17, 3, 44, 5 and 23. He averages just 18.42 with the bat, and it could have been worse if not for that 44 against Australia on a super-flat Ahmedabad surface. Bharat has been around for more than ten years and has played more red-ball cricket than anyone on the list. It’s still too early to discard him and the team management might give him one more series to prove his worth with the bat. After all, there must be a reason why he averages 48.55 in 19 games for India A, and was the first wicketkeeper to score a triple hundred in Ranji Trophy.    

Ishan Kishan

(Innings 82 | Runs 2985 | Average 38.76 | 100s/50s 6/16)

Many people were surprised when Kishan was brought into the Indian red-ball set-up ahead of the likes of Upendra Yadav and Akshay Wadkar. You could understand why the management did what they did, with Kishan being the closest to what Pant offered with the bat. The left-hander from Jharkhand has all the ingredients to be a perfect back-up for Pant, but the problem is he has played only six first-class games since 2020. 

Last year, Kishan smashed 132 against Kerala, while in 2021, the 24-year-old had scores of 91 and 49 in South Africa against the ‘A’ team. His top-four highest scores in first-class cricket have come against quality teams like Delhi (273), Karnataka (159*), Saurashtra (136) and Kerala (132), which tells you there’s enough Ju in there. So, don’t be surprised if India give him a debut in West Indies. On his day, Kishan can change the game in just one session.

Akshay Wadkar

(Innings 60 | Runs 2506 | Average 53.31 | 100s/50s 8/10)

It’s a shame that Wadkar hasn’t even played for India A despite averaging well above 50 in his 41-match first-class career. In fact, no other Indian wicketkeeper-batter has scored more first-class runs than Wadkar since his debut. He also has the best average among keepers from the Elite groups in this time frame (minimum 500 runs). 

Also read - Vidarbha’s BJ Watling, Akshay ‘clutch’ Wadkar continues to go unrewarded

The right-hander made his first-class debut during the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy and went on to win back-to-back titles in his first two years. His journey started with a crucial half-century in the quarter-final against Kerala before smashing his maiden ton in the final against Delhi. Since then, Wadkar has become Vidarbha’s clutch player and scored tough runs for his team on a regular basis. 

Upendra Yadav

(Innings 49  | Runs 1698 | Average 43.53 | 100s/50s 5/7)

The 26-year-old has been around the Indian set-up for a while but is yet to break into the main squad. The right-handed batter, who plays for Railways, has pretty good numbers in first-class cricket and was third on the pecking order after Pant and Bharat before Kishan barged in out of nowhere. He has also played for India A against South Africa, New Zealand and Bangladesh and has two 70-plus scores across four innings. He might not be as flashy as Pant or Kishan, but Upendra has all the qualities to become a reliable batter down the order. 


Himanshu Mantri

(Innings 32  | Runs 1190 | Average 38.38 | 100s/50s 3/4)

A wicketkeeper who is also an opening batsman is rare in red-ball cricket. However, that is what Mantri has been doing for Madhya Pradesh since 2022. The left-hander made his debut in the 2019-20 season but could only score 40 runs in four innings. However, in the 2021-22 edition, Mantri was promoted up the order and responded with 375 runs in four games, including 165 in the semi-final against Bengal. 

In the next season, the 29-year-old got 597 runs @ 39.79 to once again prove his worth with the bat. Even in the first game of the Duleep Trophy 2023, Mantri hit 29 and 68 across two innings. Opening the innings in Test cricket is the toughest job right now, and if you can do that, you can surely survive in the middle-order too.

Harvik Desai 

(Innings 63  | Runs 2224 | Average 35.87 | 100s/50s 5/13)

Another one of those wicketkeepers who can also open the innings. The 23-year-old from Saurashtra has been consistent with the bat since his debut in November 2018. He has operated at an average of 37.19, 31.42, 42.4 and 40.93, respectively, in his four editions. In Ranji Trophy 2022-23, Desai scored 614 runs in 10 games, studded with three centuries and as many fifties. Desai, however, is yet to play for India A and will be a while before we see him anywhere near the Indian Test team.

Narayan Jagadeesan

(Innings 50  | Runs 1795 | Average 39.88 | 100s/50s 6/7)

The 27-year-old is one of the most technically sound batters on this list. Averages close to 50 in List A cricket and almost 40 in red-ball cricket, which is not too bad for a wicketkeeper-batter. Jagadeesan made 123* in his first red-ball game for Tamil Nadu and averaged 41.85 in his first three seasons despite being moved up and down regularly in the batting order. 

He didn’t do much in the next two editions, but his game has grown tremendously in the last 12 months. In the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy, Jagadeesan hit 534 runs in seven games @ 48.55. On top of that, he also had a mind-boggling Vijay Hazare Trophy, amassing 830 runs in just eight innings. However, a poor IPL record could hamper his chances.  


Ricky Bhui

(Innings 97  | Runs 3828 | Average 44 | 100s/50s 14/15)

The 26-year-old is an experienced campaigner. The right-handed batter from Andhra made his debut in December 2013 but had his first successful season in 2015-16, in which he scored two centuries in seven innings. The runs have never stopped coming since then, but the issue is he has only started keeping wickets since last year, with his Andhra teammate Bharat being drafted into the India set-up. 

To be fair, he has kept wickets in five games and averages 58.14 with the bat. In this period, he has centuries against North Zone and Madhya Pradesh and scored 80 against Saurashtra. His numbers with the bat are impressive, but Bhui would now hope that he gets one entire season to keep wickets, and if he can excel in that department, the selectors would surely take notice. 

Sanju Samson

(Innings 96  | Runs 3446 | Average 38.71 | 100s/50s 10/15)

Samson has pretty solid numbers in first-class cricket since 2017, but the problem is he hasn’t played a lot of red-ball cricket in this period, especially after Ranji Trophy 2018/19. Since 2019, Samson has featured in seven first-class games and managed to score 629 runs at an average of 57.18, decorated with six fifties and one century. He doesn’t always keep wickets for Kerala but has done it in 24 matches. The 28-year-old is a phenomenal talent, but just like Kishan, his focus has largely been on white-ball cricket. 

One thing that could work in his favour is his aggressiveness with the bat, which the management is also looking for in Kishan.


Dhruv Jurel

(Innings 14  | Runs 587 | Average 48.91 | 100s/50s 1/3)

Please don’t be surprised if Jurel is fast-tracked into the India A system in the next 12 months or so after what he did in the IPL 2023. The 22-year-old has only played 11 first-class games and is yet to make his List A debut for Uttar Pradesh. The right-hander started his first-class career with an important knock of 64 against Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22. He scored one more fifty that season but, in the next edition, managed 429 runs across seven innings @ 71.5. 

However, 249 of those runs came in one innings against Nagaland. Jurel would now be more confident after a successful IPL 2023 and would be eager to take his game to the next level in the upcoming domestic season.

Het Patel

(Innings 22  | Runs 945 | Average 45 | 100s/50s 2/6)

The wicketkeeper-batter from Gujarat has only played 13 first-class games but has already forced everyone to sit up and take notice. Het began his career with a knock of 72 against Madhya Pradesh before scoring back-to-back centuries in the next two games. He even got three consecutive fifties in the last Duleep Trophy, but things didn’t quite go as planned in the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy, in which he averaged only 24.25 in 12 innings. Het is only 24 and one solid season will be enough to get the selectors talking about him. 

Kumar Kushagra

(Innings 22  | Runs 868 | Average 39.45 | 100s/50s 1/4)

An emerging wicketkeeper-batter from Jharkhand, we have heard that a couple of times in the past. No, we are not comparing him with the likes of Dhoni and Kishan, but there’s something about Kushagra that tells you he is the one to watch out for. Yes, almost 40 percent of his runs came in one match against Nagaland, but there have also been knocks of 50 vs Tamil Nadu, 92 vs Kerala, 96 vs Goa, 48 vs Rajasthan and 37 and 36 against Karnataka, which tells you something about the 18-year-old. Mind you, he is also the youngest batter in first-class history to slam a 250-plus score.  

* Abhishek Porel (Bengal), Anuj Rawat (Delhi) and Anmol Malhotra (Punjab) are three other wicketkeepers to watch out for. Malhotra was superb in his debut season (468 runs @ 52) but has only managed one 50-plus score (100 v Haryana) in his last 16 innings. Meanwhile, both Rawat and Porel featured in the last edition of the Indian Premier League but haven’t really stamped their authority in first-class cricket. Rawat averages 28.75 in 27 games, while Porel has scored 695 runs in 22 innings @ 30.21.

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