A decade ago, Rishabh Pant would catch a bus from Roorkee to Delhi in the wee hours to report to his practice session on time. At times, he had no place to stay. He would sleep inside a gurdwara or at a video game parlour; the chirpy youngster had found a friend in the owner after spending hours on the console.
The 23-year-old always found a solution to his problems.
In 2020, he went down in the pecking order when K.L. Rahul started to deliver the goods as the limited-overs wicketkeeper-batsman. He had a quiet Indian Premier League and did not feature in the ODIs and T20Is in Australia. Not even the first Test in Adelaide. But when he did, the bat was the new solution. He knew he had to impress as a batsman to cement his spot in the Test side; wicketkeeping was still a work in progress.
The 40-ball 29 in Melbourne had a lot of intent. The batting finally took shape in Sydney when the southpaw blasted 97 in a high-pressure session. The unbeaten 89 at the Gabba is no less than a double hundred as it won India the game and the series.
Former India wicketkeeper Vijay Dahiya, who worked with Pant at Delhi Capitals in the IPL, feels it’s the mindset that allows him to stage such a turnaround in his career. Psychologically, Pant is a different beast on the field. In 2017, he smashed a 33-ball fifty in an IPL game six hours after attending his father’s funeral.
“It’s not easy when you don’t start to be honest. He didn’t start in the first XI and the last time India went there, he had got a hundred. He didn’t have a good IPL as well. So when you don’t have all those things, you definitely have a bit of doubt in your mind but credit needs to be given to the support staff and team management. They gave him enough confidence and decided to keep him in the loop.
“He is a phenomenal player, a match-winner, an impact player who can change the course of the game anytime,” Dahiya told Sportstar after India’s 2-1 series win in Australia on Tuesday.
Dahiya, the head talent scout of Delhi Capitals, has observed Pant closely at the training sessions in the United Arab Emirates last year. “The good thing about him is the body language. Even if something is going on in his mind, he doesn’t show it. And that’s what you need as a ‘keeper. You need to be mentally strong. The kind of criticism he has been receiving for his ‘keeping, only a mentally strong player can make a comeback from there. He needed time with himself.”
Former India batsman Mohammad Kaif, currently the assistant coach at Delhi Capitals, said that Pant would bat for hours at the IPL nets. "His last round never got over. The last round meant an hour more. He would keep saying aa raha hoon, aa raha hoon (I am coming, I am coming).
Range of strokes
Pant’s range of strokes definitely demands binge-watching — elegant cover drives, ferocious pulls, a Saeed Anwar-like cut, intimidating sweep and a cheeky scoop against spinners. All were unleashed at the Gabba.
India A and U-19 fielding coach Abhay Sharma is elated at Pant’s graduation from a junior cricketer to a match-winner. He deserves credit for Pant’s pulling prowess.
“I think this is one of the best knocks played by any youngster who has graduated from U-19 to India A to senior cricket. I would like to mention Shubman Gill also. There is a lot of good work going on in India A and U-19 level. The A tour exposures are making these cricketers. They are able to compete and dominate world cricket.
“I used to give him throwdowns and he used to take it as a challenge. I would shoot at a good pace and bounce. I used to tell him dekhna tere sar pe maaronga (watch out, I will hit your head). Whenever he pulled or hooked me, I enjoyed it as he was able to do that. He is a special talent,” said Sharma.
Pant turned out to be quite a strokemaker.
"On their day, they can win you games but at times, shot selections can go awry. Whenever he will play, it will be a 50-50 kind of a thing but there is always a chance that he will win you the game. As a batsman, he is improving day by day," he added.
Permanent in the XI
After working with the entire wicketkeeping pool of the country, Sharma feels stumpers mature late. "From my experience of working with keepers, I feel that keepers mature a little late. There are lots of skills involved in a keeper. In the coming years, he will be a good wicketkeeper. There is a need for little improvement although he is doing very well. I am sure he will do the hard work."
Dahiya batted for Pant's inclusion in every Test series. "When we talk about skilled jobs, you need to have that consistency being part of the playing XI. The other thing I feel is that he is an all-rounder. This knock and the one before that will give him confidence and that's what reflects in all-rounders, When you do well in one department, it shows in the other as well. Keeping is a game of confidence and if he plays consistently, I see him getting better in wicketkeeping as well."
Pant ended the tour of Australia with 274 runs including two remarkable half-centuries in Sydney and Brisbane, eight catches and a memorable 'Player of the Match' award.
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