Explosive Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant is set to replace in-form senior India opener Shikhar Dhawan, who was on Tuesday ruled out of at least two World Cup matches after his left thumb was found to have a hairline fracture, dealing a major blow to one of the top title contenders at the showpiece, according to reports.
According to TimesNow, Pant will take a flight to England in the next 48 hours. Pant was one of the batsmen in reserves and was likely to be called up in event of an injury.
Sunil Gavaskar and Kevin Pietersen also batted for Pant's inclusion but Gautam Gambhir said it is Ambati Rayudu who deserves to be called in if Dhawan is ruled out of the India's World Cup campaign due to a left thumb fracture.
Dhawan's World Cup was thrown into disarray owing to the thumb injury which he picked up in India's 36-run win over Australia on Sunday. The opener scored a hundred in the match, playing through pain with a swollen thumb.
He is set to miss the next two matches against New Zealand (Thursday) and Pakistan (Sunday). Possible replacements being talked about are standbys Pant and Rayudu along with India A captain Shreyas Iyer.
In the 10 World Cup matches he has played, Dhawan has amassed 537 runs at an average of 53.70 with a strike rate of 94.21. He batted through pain after being hit on his left thumb by a rising delivery from pacer Pat Cummins on Sunday but didn't field during the clash. Ravindra Jadeja stood in his place for the entire 50 overs. Dhawan underwent scans here in which the fracture came to light.
"...it has to be Rishabh Pant. He has been in cracking hot form in the IPL. He would probably want to show that he deserved to be in the team in the first place," Gavaskar told 'India Today' when asked about his pick for replacement if Dhawan is ruled out.
"But if Shikhar and the doctors say that he can be fit in the next 18 days, then I would wait for him even if it means he sits out of the England game (June 30). Shikhar has shown that his pain threshold is high," he added.
"For your country you bear the pain, you mentally strengthen and control yourself."
The view on having Pant on board, if Dhawan is ousted, was echoed by former England batsman Kevin Pietersen.
"Shikha OUT the World Cup. Get Pant on the plane ASAP. KL Rahul to open and Pant at number 4...," Pietersen tweeted.
Offering a completely different take was Gautam Gambhir, who retired earlier this year.
"If Ambati Rayudu doesn't make it as Shikhar's replacement than his career is over. He averages 45 in ODIs and not being part of the World Cup with that average is very disappointing," he told 'Star Sports'. "If he doesn't make it than he should pack his bags and only concentrate on the IPL because his international career is over," he added.
(With PTI inputs)