Barring the weather, if there is one topic that had surrounded the just-concluded India’s tour of New Zealand, it is the Rishabh Pant vs Sanju Samson debate. The two young premier wicketkeeper batters have been fighting for a place in India’s XI, but the pattern that emerged from the three T20Is and ODIs is that the team management is persisting with the experienced Pant over the in-form Samson. A lot has been said by commentators and on social media as to who is the more deserving of the two. While Pant has struggled lately, Samson has gotten his ODI career off to a rousing start scoring over 300 runs in 11 matches with an impressive average of 66. And yet, it is not enough for the team management to include him in the Playing XI.

Samson featured in only one match in the entire tour – the first ODI in Auckland, where he scored 36 off 38 balls batting at No. 7 striking four boundaries. In the next game, he was dropped for Deepak Hooda, whereas Pant has been given a longer rope but the 25-year-old hasn’t been able to cash in on it. In the four innings that he has batted, Pant has scored 6, 11, 15 and 10 – a couple of those innings tailor made for the youngster to play himself in. With each Pant failure, Samson’s fanbase is growing louder and as are the cricket pundits. With the Pant vs Samson debate picking more steam with each game, stand-in captain Shikhar Dhawan has finally broken silence on the matter and revealed once and for all the reason behind the management persisting with Rishabh.

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“(Mushkil as such nahi hai. Jaise Rishabh hai… usne England mein one-day khela hai. Waha pe uska 100 tha so uske baad of course, jiss player ne 100 banaya hai usey back kiya jata hai. Har ek cheez larger picture dekh ke kari jaati hai. Agar koi match-winner player hai toh usko back karna hai. Bade saare cheezon ko analyse karke hi decision liye jaate hain. Of coruse, Sanju Samson bada achha kar raha hai. Woh apni jagah… usko jitne mauke mile hain usne achha kara hai. But sometimes, achha karne ke bawajood wait karna padta hai kyuki pehle player ne kaafi achha kara hota hai. And uski jo skill hai, humein pata hota hai ki woh match-winner hai. Usko uss waqt cushioning ki zarurat hai jab woh achha nahi karta. Toh woh cushioning di jaati hai player ko.)”

“It’s not that tough. Like in Rishabh’s case, he played the one-dayers in England and scored a century there. And a player who gets a 100 gets backing. Everything is done keeping the larger picture in mind. If there is a match-winner, you have to back him. A decision is taken after analysing a lot of things,” Dhawan said during the post-match press conference after the third ODI was abandoned due to rain with New Zealand winning the series 2-1.

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“Of course, Sanju is doing really well. Whatever opportunities he has gotten, he has done well but sometimes despite performing well, a player has to wait because the one before him has been doing well. The skill he (Pant) has, we know that he is a match-winner. Certain cushioning needs to be given that cushioning when he isn’t performing. So that cushioning is given to that player.”

Dhawan’s compatriot Kane Williamson too had his say on the Pant vs Samson debate, and putting himself in the Indian captain’s shoes, pointed out how making tough decisions is one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader.

“The Indian team is just so talented so I guess one of the challenges is that you are weighing up different options among some fantastic players. Sometimes it’s tough to know exactly but you know that whoever you pick in that team, they’re going to be super talented as we know and as I’ve seen first-hand playing in India. So yeah, it’s a challenge and just one of those things. As a leader, you are part of some decision-making and you’re looking to buy in to what teams and everybody else is trying to do. You try and move forward,” the New Zealand captain said.

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