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Dravid backs under-fire Pant after drawn South Africa T20 series

NEW DELHI (AFP) – Coach Rahul Dravid said Rishabh Pant remained “integral” to India’s plans despite concerns about his batting and leadership after the Twenty20 series against South Africa ended on Sunday in a 2-2 draw.

The 24-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman was making his debut as India captain, prompting speculation that he could one day replace the resting Rohit Sharma, 35, as permanent skipper.

India lost the first two games and Pant managed scores of just 29, 5, 6 and 17 in the series with Sunday’s fifth and final game washed out.

“When you are in the middle overs and you are asking people to play a slightly more attacking brand of cricket, sometimes it’s hard to judge on two or three games,” Dravid said.

“He remains an integral part of our batting line-up. The fact that he is a left-hander is very important to us in the middle overs.

India’s Ruturaj Gaikwad bats. PHOTO: AP

“He would liked to have scored more runs but it’s not that concerning. Certainly he is very big part of our plans going forward in the next few months.”

Pant was out the same way in each of his innings – attempting to fetch the ball from wide outside off stump and being caught – prompting batting great Sunil Gavaskar to say on TV that Pant “hasn’t learned” from earlier dismissals and “he keeps going for it”.

“He can’t throw enough muscle on that. He has got to stop looking to go aerial that far outside the off-stump.”

Dinesh Karthik, another wicketkeeper-batsman, scored 92 runs in the series including a match-winning 55 with former India opener Wasim Jaffer saying Pant may find it hard to retain his place as a result.

“I think DK has overlapped Rishabh Pant at least at the moment. I can’t say about the future, but at the moment you would pick DK any time in front of Rishabh Pant,” Jaffer told ESPNcricinfo.

India lost the opening two matches only to bounce back in the next two with convincing victories and Dravid said the young captain would learn from his mistakes. “I think he is a young captain, he is learning all the time, he is growing as a leader, he is getting more and more opportunities. It’s again too early to judge him,” said Dravid.

Pant led Indian Premier League side Delhi Capitals in two editions of the popular Twenty20 tournament and took the team to the playoffs last year.

Pant, who made his India Twenty20 debut in 2017, will now fly to England to join the Rohit-led team for a rescheduled Test starting July 1 in Birmingham.