Punting on Pant — a gamble worth taking

For Rishabh Pant life has been like a roller-coaster. The rapid unfolding of events has made him stronger for the sterner tests of competitive cricket.

Rishabh Pant’s top-notch performance in the 2016-17 Ranji season also sent out a message to the critics, who were of the view that the prolific Delhi run-machine was cut out only for the ODI and T20 formats. “I didn’t want to be branded a limited-over specialist, and I was determined to score big in the longer format, and I proved it,” he says.   -  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Promising wicket-keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who was out of his teens on October 5, has seen different shades of life even before his promising international career took off. His experiences have moulded him into an all-weather cricketer.

The young Rishabh has seen it all — pain and pleasure, agony and ecstasy, loss and gain, the downside and the upside — in his personal life as well as his fledgling cricket career, making him realise the essence of life. “You can only control the controllable,” he says matter-of-factly in a free-wheeling chat with Sportstar.

The sudden demise of his father Rajendra Pant; staying in a gurudwara while in search of a house in Delhi; the lack of opportunities in his native town Roorkee in Uttarakhand; his formative years in cricket in Rajasthan; the local and non-local issues of Delhi cricket; being picked up by Delhi Daredevils for Rs. 1.9 crore — 19 times more than his base price — in the Indian Premier League player-auction; earning a slot in the India T20 team... Incidents such as these have made Rishabh realise the unpredictability of both life and cricket.

For him life has been like a roller-coaster. The rapid unfolding of events has made him stronger for the sterner tests of competitive cricket.

“My father always wanted me to play cricket; he encouraged me in pursuing my passion. His death was a shattering experience for me. He was only 53. I stayed only for three days to complete the rituals and then took a flight to Bengaluru to play an IPL fixture for Delhi Daredevils. Life has to go on...,” Rishabh says.

“I am playing cricket because of my father. As a university player he dreamt of playing for the country. I am happy he saw me wearing the India colours when I made my debut against England in a T20 match in Bengaluru.”

The hard-hitting batsman had experienced all the hardships of a small-town boy dreaming of making it big in the game. After playing in Rajasthan initially, it was Delhi and the Sonnet Cricket Club, coached by Tarak Sinha, that gave him the platform to showcase his talent.

“It was Tarak Singh Sir who changed my life. He was so helpful during my formative years and pushed me to give my best. I still recollect the nights I spent shadow-practising the strokes in front of a mirror in the room, as desired by my coach (Tarak). Those were testing times,” says Rishabh.

His performances in the Under-19 World Cup, the IPL as well as the last Ranji Trophy season, where he scored 972 runs including a triple century against Maharashtra, earned him the tag of ‘the next big thing’ in Indian cricket. Rishabh’s top-notch performance in the 2016-17 Ranji season also sent out a message to the critics, who were of the view that the prolific Delhi run-machine was cut out only for the ODI and T20 formats. “I didn’t want to be branded a limited-over specialist, and I was determined to score big in the longer format, and I proved it,” he says.

Man of the Series Rishabh Pant (right) with coach Rahul Dravid and Man of the Match Sarfaraz Khan after winning the final of the under-19 tri-series against Bangladesh in November, 2015. “Dravid Sir advised me to play as long as the No. 8 batsman comes in. He also advised me to infuse confidence in them (the tail-enders) and frequently communicate with them to help them play according to the situation,” says Rishabh.   -  PTI

 

In keeping with the demands of modern cricket, Rishabh is also getting used to batting in different slots. “I even opened the innings in an IPL match. In the longer format, I go down the order because I need rest after keeping wickets in multiple sessions,” he says.

Brushing aside the question whether he is in contention for a place in the Indian team for the 2019 World Cup, Rishbah says that his aim is to play cricket and perform well, and leave the rest to destiny.

The talented youngster has been quick to grasp the basic tenet of cricket: discipline. “Discipline is the key. You need to get all your habits right,” Rishabh says. “Every cricketer has to adjust to all the formats, and that is what I am learning. Right now I am observing everyone and inculcating all the good traits. To play in any format you need to work on certain techniques. I am in the Indian team for a short span of time and my coaches are not disturbing my technique, allowing me to play my natural game,” he adds.

Rishabh, who loves to hit over the top, is also learning the art of shoring up the innings with the tail, as he often walks in to bat at No. 5 or No. 6. “Rahul Dravid Sir always asked me to take my own time and not panic with the tail. He advised me to play as long as the No. 8 batsman comes in. He also advised me to infuse confidence in them (the tail-enders) and frequently communicate with them to help them play according to the situation,” he says.

Rishabh says without any hesitation that his dismissal in the first ‘Test’ against New Zealand ‘A’ in Vijayawada was due to lack of concentration while batting with the tail. “I got nervous when the tail-enders joined me, and I got out. I am learning.”

Analysing his approach, the youngster says that he prefers to leave the away going balls and punish the bad ones. “Everyone (the bowlers) comes at you so hard that you need to be judicious in selecting your strokes. I would like to capitalise on the bad balls, and I am adept at playing both pace and spin,” Rishabh says.

Incidentally, the hard-hitting batsman uses a lighter willow. He says he believes in the timing and placement of his strokes.

Rishabh is also drawn to the professional approach of the Indian teams, both senior and junior. “Everyone in the team is so professional and they know their job,” he says.

The stocky southpaw, who scored the fastest century in first class cricket in India (off 48 balls against Jharkhand in Kerala), says any player who wishes to play for India should not neglect the Ranji Trophy, as the selectors, before picking any Indian team, will look at the first class scores. “You neglect Ranji Trophy at your own peril,” he says.

The tour of South Africa with the India ‘A’ team taught Rishabh the importance of adjusting to the various types of wickets. “Every country has something different to offer, and that is how cricket is played all over the world. The best way is to adjust to the conditions quickly,” he says.

Quite interestingly, the dashing wicket-keeper prefers to play cricket and not watch it. “In all these years, I have never watched a match in a ground — be it a domestic or an international game. I go to the ground only to play, not to watch,” Rishabh signs off.