Rishabh Pant and Chepauk: an abiding love affair

Chepauk adores Pant. It was here two years ago that he racked up his maiden One-Day International fifty (71 off 69) against the West Indies and walked off to a rousing reception from the crowd.

The madness was always there in Pant’s cricket, but he has now strengthened it with method and precision.   -  Sportzpics/BCCI

Early on day 2 of the second Test against England, debutant Axar Patel gets stumped off Moeen Ali for just 5. Three wickets are left. As a disappointed Patel walks past Rishabh Pant at the non-striker’s end, he gets a pat on the back from his teammate.

Two balls later, Ishant Sharma top-edges a sweep to Rory Burns. Ishant too gets a pat on the back from Pant as he trudges back.

But a loud clatter of applause runs around Chepauk, where the crowd is mostly cheering Pant, who is nearing his fifty. There’s nonchalant courage to everything he does on the field. With the wicketkeeping gloves, he talks with the zeal of a young man who is enjoying an extraordinary experience. But with the bat, he combines these very human confines with the talent to amplify his skills.

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Meanwhile, over at Chepauk, Kuldeep Yadav – playing his first Test in nearly two years – has walked out to the middle. He has a first-class century, but his job here is to hold one end up. Moeen Ali angles one into the off stump; Kuldeep smothers it. Pant immediately gives his partner the thumbs-up.

On the final delivery of the next over, Joe Root bowls a length ball on off stump and an inside edge off Kuldeep’s bat goes to backward square leg. A single is available, but Pant raises his right hand to turn it down.

Pant hits the next two balls for four and brings up his fourth Test fifty at home with a single. It’s Pant’s confidence and an unabashed belief in his abilities that make him one of the most scintillating talents of this generation. It is a side of him that he doesn’t have to work hard at bringing out into the public.

Where he wins more emphatically is with the fans, with chants of “Ree-shabh Pant! Ree-shabh Pant!” reverberating through the stands even when he’s off the strike.

Chepauk adores Pant. It was here two years ago that he racked up his maiden One-Day International fifty (71 off 69) against the West Indies and walked off to a rousing reception from the crowd. “You have to play according to the situation and what the team needs. A good player is one who can mould his game according to the situation and the team’s demand,” Pant had said after his knock.

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Since then, he has increasingly found himself in positions to dictate the course. Be it in Sydney, Brisbane or Chennai, Pant got the measure of the conditions and strategies before opening up. The madness was always there in Pant’s cricket, but he has now strengthened it with method and precision.

Like in the first Test against England at the same venue. At 73 for 4, India was 505 behind the visitor’s first-innings total and Jack Leach was homing in on the rough patch outside the left-hander’s off-stump. Pant, realising he would be a walking wicket if he stayed rooted, started stepping out and collected five sixes off the 21 balls he faced of Leach. “I thought I was playing in the IPL (Indian Premier League),” Leach would later say, joking about being at the receiving end of Pant’s ire.
 

Podcast: The host lost the 1st Test, pressing pause on the momentum post its triumph Down Under. As crowds return to the stadium for the 2nd Test, Vijay Lokapally, Shayan Acharya and Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya discuss what India needs to do to bounce back in the series.

 


Cut to Sunday, after scoring an unbeaten 58 off 77, Pant clung on to two one-handed screamers behind the stumps to dismiss Ollie Pope and Leach. He got a big hug from captain Virat Kohli with fielding coach R. Sridhar looking on in joy from the dressing room.

He hits big sixes, sings “Spiderman, Spiderman,” engages in behind-the-stumps chatter and is a crowd favourite. 

Rishabh Pant is here, there, everywhere.