IPL 2024: Will make for a brilliant story if Rishabh Pant can score runs, says S Sreesanth on keeper-batter’s comeback

New Delhi, March 20 (IANS) The initial phase in the 17th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), starting from March 22, will be virtually serving as a selection trial and give cues to the Ajit Agarkar-led selection panel to finalise national squad for the Men’s T20 World Cup, happening in June this year.

The first few days in the IPL is set to see Rishabh Pant make a comeback to competitive cricket action after 14 months of being on recovery route from multiple injuries suffered in a life-threatening car accident in December 2022.

The BCCI has declared him fit as a wicketkeeper-batter for this IPL, where he will be captaining Delhi Capitals, in what is clearly a remarkable recovery. Former India fast-bowler S Sreesanth, a member of 2007 T20 World Cup winning team, speaks exclusively to IANS on Pant’s return, the narratives of India’s squad selection in IPL 2024, key pointers emerging in the build-up to the tournament and more.

Q. One of the biggest talking points of IPL 2024 is Rishabh Pant’s long-awaited return. Last year in March, you did meet him during his recovery period. What are you anticipating on his return to the game after being totally fit to play in the tournament?

A. I did meet him last year alongside Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh, and the biggest quality I could see was that he was very much focused and clear in his mindset in recovery. He said at that time, ‘Sree bhai, medical science is saying 18 months to two years, but I will be back ASAP’.

He worked very hard and huge credit goes to everyone at the National Cricket Academy and BCCI for supporting him. He just showed the world about not giving up and that sky’s the limit if you keep working hard.

Plus, he has been inspiring others and hasn’t looked for sympathy; even his social media posts, where he’s working very hard, has looked genuine. He’s worked extremely hard as it hasn’t been easy, so it will make for a brilliant story if he can score runs.

Q. As a follow-up to Pant’s return, what are the things with respect to India’s T20 World Cup selection that you are keeping an eye out for in IPL 2024?

A. Everybody is talking about Rishabh Pant making a comeback and even with the Board declaring him fit means it makes for an interesting story. But I would like to see Sanju Samson making a comeback as to be honest, it’s high time that he scores some runs, not just because I am from Kerala state, but I met during an interaction and he himself is looking forward to a fruitful season.

So, I would like to see him score heavy runs this season and if he makes it to the T20 World Cup squad, it will make for a great story. I was fortunate to be a part of the 2007 T20 World Cup winning team and I feel the 2024 IPL is the right platform for India to get ready for that tournament and win it. I am keeping my fingers crossed that with good IPL preparation, India gets to win the T20 World Cup.

I would also say that KL Rahul has to step up and make runs. I genuinely wish to see him opening the batting for LSG. It’s not going to be that easy, but when it comes to leadership quality, KL Rahul knows how to stand up and show that hard work pays off. I genuinely wish to see people who perform well and deserve that get into the T20 World Cup squad, rather than the big names. With Pant, Samson and even Dhruv Jurel, it will be interesting to see who makes the cut.

Q. Who are the bowlers you will be keeping an eye out for in IPL 2024, with regards to T20 WC selection?

A. Jasprit Bumrah will be the leader of the pack, with Mohammed Shami not being there. I would love to see a lot of bowling of Arshdeep Singh. He’s got a lot of variety and can bowl well at death overs, as well as swing the new ball. From spinners, I am keen to see Ravindra Jadeja bowl well as he’s one of the best all-rounders in the world.

I have been a huge fan of Mohammed Siraj and would love to see him running hard and bending his back to take scalps. Even in last IPL season and the ODI WC, he was running in and hitting the deck hard. Though he went for a bit of runs, I hope he bowls his heart out to have a much better economy rate and pick wickets.

Q. There’s been a leadership change at MI and GT from last season – how do you think these new captains will be going about their business in IPL 2024?

A. Whatever decisions the franchises make, the teams have to eventually do well. Hardik Pandya being the new captain for Mumbai Indians, knows how to go about it as he began his IPL journey with Mumbai Indians. It will be great to see what he can do and with Rohit having the full freedom to express himself, it will be brilliant to witness.

Shubman Gill has been doing extremely well and whenever he plays in Gujarat Titans’ home-ground in Ahmedabad, he does come off pretty good. It will be great to see the different tactics and strategies from him and with Ashish Nehra being the head coach there, it will be great to see how they shape up.

Not many people know that Shubman was a ball boy when I was playing for Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2008 and had taken a picture with him long time back. If I look back at a personal note, I would like to see him perform well as a leader. But when GT and MI face, Hardik Pandya will have the upper hand considering he knows everything about the Gujarat team.

Q. Defending champions Chennai Super Kings are having injury concerns with key personnel like Devon Conway and Matheesha Pathirana. How do you see the side navigating through this?

A. One thing about CSK, I can say is… Dhoni bhai even if he get a normal bowler, or a club cricketer, and who can actually rotate his arm, he will make that bowler a match winner, even if it comes to an all-rounder or batter.

Whatever resources he gets, he’s going to bring the best out of that person. IPL is a platform where a lot of youngsters keep coming and even if some big players miss out, a youngster or even a veteran will shine. Like, last season, we saw completely new avatars of Ajinkya Rahane and Shivam Dube.

So, Dhoni bhai will bring the best out of each individual. Yes, they have injury concerns, but cricket is all about that – one may get injured, but it gives a chance to people to be superstars and who knows we could be talking about them next season.

Q. Could you share your experience being in the commentary team of Star Sports, especially of connecting with cricket followers through Malayalam language broadcast?

A. I am genuinely grateful to do this ever since I got an opportunity last season through the IPL. It wasn’t really easy as you can just walk in to play cricket and bowl the outswingers and yorkers. But thanks to a great team behind us, who work on us through their inputs, we feel we are always ready.

In commentary, I have always kept learning and it’s been a beautiful experience. The best experience has been to share space with (Sunil) Gavaskar sir and (Ravi) Shastri sir, as well as with Sanjay Manjrekar and others.

Even during WTC, I met Harsha Bhogle sir and all of them are legends in commentary, from whom you get to learn so much. When it comes to Malayalam, nothing like speaking in your regional language and it’s been a beautiful experience.



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