Batting legend VVS Laxman believes the inclusion of Sanju Samson into the India squad for the upcoming West Indies T20I series at home is a strong message for the under-performing Rishabh Pant.

After having lost his place to Wriddhiman Saha in Tests, Pant is under-pressure to remain the first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman in the limited-overs cricket as well. Irresponsible shots coupled with poor DRS calls have put him in the firing line and the fact that Samson has been knocking on the doors for some time now, has made life more difficult for Pant.

“The team management and the selection committee have passed on a strong message that we got a backup in the form of Sanju Samson,” Laxman told Star Sports. “Rishabh Pant has been given a lot of opportunities and I’m sure that they will be communicating and giving him that security within that group. But then ultimately the player has to justify the faith the team management, the selection committee has been imposing on him.”

Pant’s big-hitting skill has been his saviour so far, an X factor that has kept him in the selector’s good books. But time and again, Laxman says, the youngster has failed to justify the faith. “Unfortunately, Rishabh hasn’t been able to do that, but he is that X factor. I still feel that he is an exclusive batsman who can come and change the course of the match just by his ability to hit good balls out of the park,” he observed.

He continued, “As a batsman – there’s no clarity of thoughts, there’s no doubt that he’s under pressure, because how many times have you seen Rishabh Pant, when he is in full flow, play and he has a different mindset and technique against the spinners. I feel he will be under tremendous pressure to retain his place in the playing eleven.”

Laxman further said that veteran MS Dhoni is waiting to see how his potential successors – Pant and Samson – perform at the international stage before taking a call on his international career. Dhoni hasn’t played competitive cricket since the ICC World Cup 2019 putting a big question mark over his retirement.

“I think MS Dhoni will wait with patience to see the performance of Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson. Whenever he gets an opportunity and he will take a call after the IPL because the way I am seeing it, MS Dhoni is preparing himself for the IPL. I’m sure he will do well like he has done whenever he plays and leads CSK,” Laxman said.

Should either of Pant or Samson fail to convert their chances ahead of the ICC T20 World Cup next year, Dhoni will walk right back into the squad, Laxman predicted.

“If both these youngsters don’t grab their opportunities, probably there is a thought that MS Dhoni can come back provided he shows that form in the IPL leading up to the World Cup. At the moment Rishabh Pant would be the first choice, his back up would be Sanju Samson and if both these youngsters don’t grab these opportunities then you can probably look at MS Dhoni, keeping mind how he performs in the IPL,” he opined.