Rishabh Pant — a breathless run!

Rishabh Pant has been on fire this Ranji season with scores of 146 (against Assam), 308 (Maharashtra), 24 and 9 (Karnataka), 60 (Odisha), and 117 and 135 (Jharkhand). Besides, the 19-year-old Delhi batsman also struck the fastest century — off 48 balls — by an Indian in first class cricket, against Jharkhand in the Ranji Trophy.

Rishabh Pant... going great guns.   -  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

“Let us move our chairs,” warned K. P. Bhaskar, as Rishabh Pant took guard in the nets at the Sonnet Club, Venkateshwara College ground, south Delhi. The left-hander tore into the bowlers. When Rishabh is batting, it is an event at the Sonnet Club. Youngsters line up to watch the young batting talent who has taken the domestic scene by storm.

At the nets, Rishabh’s powerful straight drive almost struck the bowler’s head. “Sorry brother,” he said, raising his arm.

“This is the best aspect of Rishabh’s character,” informed the Sonnet Club coach, Tarak Sinha, who has been a major influence on the young batsman. “He is extremely respectful, and caring too. I remember, when he first came to me, I was struck by his confidence and of course his awesome power while hitting the ball. I knew instantly that I had a potential India player in front of me,” recalled Sinha.

It was in 2008-09 that Rishabh became Sinha’s student. When Sinha moved to Rajasthan to head the cricket operations there, he took Rishabh along. “The selectors in Delhi were not convinced. He was raw, but his talent was so visible. I thought he would at least get to play in Rajasthan,” recollected Sinha.

 

Sinha should have known the strange ways of the Delhi selectors, who had turned away two names from the junior selection trials — Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli.

Rishabh played only two under-16 matches for Rajasthan in 2011. He was treated as an outsider and then a nobody after Sinha left Rajasthan and returned to Delhi. “I felt so guilty. Because of me, he had gone to Rajasthan and now he was helpless. But how long could the Delhi selectors ignore him?” Sinha said.

Rishabh forced his way into the Delhi under-19 squad in 2013 that left the state selectors embarrassed for having ignored him earlier. He made his first-class debut in 2015 against Bengal and commenced his cricket journey in style with knocks of 28 and 57.

The 19-year-old youngster has been on fire this season with scores of 146 (against Assam), 308 (against Maharashtra), 24 and 9 (against Karnataka), 60 (against Odisha), and 117 and 135 (against Jharkhand). He also struck the fastest century — off 48 balls — by an Indian in a first-class match, against Jharkhand in the Ranji Trophy.

“I feel the pressure from within now. I had scored 300 and it would have been bad if I had not built on that knock. It would help me improve. Bowlers do concentrate on me, to get me out cheaply. I look at the merit of the ball now; I don’t force myself to play the shots and lose good form. One should never take cricket for granted,” said Rishabh.

Davender Sharma has spent hours honing Rishabh’s skills. “He has an amazing capacity to learn quickly. We call him left-handed Viru (Virender Sehwag). I have not seen him repeat his mistakes, not heard him raise his voice against juniors. He wants to learn and that’s what I like the best about him,” said the Sonnet Club coach.

“I have not groomed sloggers. Rishabh plays his shots, but builds his innings,” said Sinha. His student nodded. “If you are batting you have to respect the bowlers and the game. You can’t just do this and do that. You must control the game and not be carried away. I get respect, I give respect…I love coming to the club (Sonnet). It gives me joy,” Rishabh said.

Talking of one important lesson that he had learnt in the past season, Rishabh said: “Good behaviour is most important; to stay grounded, head down. You have to understand your responsibility, for you are under scrutiny.”

Bhaskar, who is now the coach of Delhi, spoke highly of Rishabh. “He is a special talent and will play for long and smash many records. The intensity with which he bats is amazing. What a talent!”

Indeed, Rishabh is an amazing talent. He is waiting to break into the Indian team.

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PEOPLE BEHIND RISHABH

For Saroj Pant, life revolves around her son Rishabh and daughter Sakshi, who played basketball. In Roorkee, there was no infrastructure for cricket but Rishabh, with a bat and ball as his friends, had dreams of playing for India.

“I knew he had interest in cricket, but not to the extent that he would develop such a passion for the game. He played many games but cricket took most of his time,” Saroj said while watching her son bat at the Sonnet Club nets, at the Venkateshwara College in south Delhi.

Saroj’s role in Rishabh’s cricket has been huge even though his father, Rajendra, had played the game at the University level.



 

Rishabh and his mother would leave Roorkee at 3 a.m. by bus to report at the Sonnet Club at 8 a.m. “It was tough but I had to support my son’s dreams. On many occasions, we would run to the bus stand because there was no transport available at that time (in Roorkee) and we couldn’t afford to miss the 3 a.m. bus,” Saroj said.

An advertisement in a newspaper, announcing trials for under-14, caught the attention of Deepa, a cousin of Rishabh living in Delhi. “I brought him for the trials and he was picked,” said Saroj.

Rishabh was picked from among more than 1000 players.

“Just a few shots (that he played) convinced me he was special,” recalled coach Tarak Sinha.

“I used to maintain a scrapbook of his newspapers clippings,” said Saroj. “It has become a habit. When he was called for a 45-day camp (in Delhi), I stayed with him (in a paying guest accommodation).”

Once when there was no accommodation available, Saroj and Rishabh stayed a Gurudwara (Nanakpura) nearby.

Rishabh, according to coach Davender Sharma, even slept in a park nearby. “His dedication was amazing,” he said.

At the Venkateshwara College ground, Saroj would watch Rishabh from a distance. “I would sit under a tree for hours. I had to be there for him. I am grateful to Tarak Sir and Davender. Even Rishabh acknowledges their support. He tells me Tarak Sir and Davender are the two most important people, ahead of us. I agree.”