Pant and the flamboyance — one for the long road!

India and Delhi wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant's rise has been a story of struggle, from catching midnight buses from Roorkee to train in Delhi to once staying at a Gurudwara.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant (right) and Virat Kohli during the third Test against England in Nottingham.   -  AP

 

A frisson of excitement passed through the Indian contingent at Trent Bridge when Rishabh Pant took strike on Saturday. There was an anticipation that this could be the start of something special.

His first ball, from Adil Rashid, Pant nudged into the offside. To the second, he danced down the track, unleashing a hit that sailed over the sight-screen. Rashid grimaced in jest. In the Indian dressing room, there was, no doubt, laughter.

“The moment he hit a six, my mind went back to Vinod Kambli, because he had started his first-class career with a six,” India batting coach Sanjay Bangar said afterwards. “It requires some sort of gumption to do that. The spunk was pretty evident.”

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Hardik Pandya, his partner at the non-striker end, broke into a grin when asked about Pant. “He was saying, 'I am nervous'. I looked at the board and said, 'I have played 55 balls and scored 18; you are already 18 in 23 balls.' The way he batted was amazing.”

Pant may have only scored 24 in his maiden Test innings, but there was enough there to see that he is unfazed by the big stage. The 20-year-old has already led Delhi to a Ranji Trophy final, scored a domestic triple-hundred, cracked the fastest century by an Indian in first-class cricket, and aggregated near 700 runs (at a strike rate of 173) in the 2018 IPL.

Yet, the pressure of international cricket is different and he handled them without any apparent difficulty. “I was nervous; everyone is nervous when they play their first match," he said. "It was a dream for me to play Test match cricket.”

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What was running through his mind when Rashid sent down that second ball? “I was not thinking of doing anything. I saw the ball and reacted to it,” he explained.

Pant’s wicketkeeping skills

Pant's batting was never a concern but there were doubts over his abilities as wicketkeeper. He acquitted himself rather well behind the stumps in the third Test — claiming seven catches in all — even if he dropped Jos Buttler on 1. “Keeping in England is always difficult because the ball wobbles a lot behind the wicket,” he said.

“I've played for India-A for the last two-and-a-half months in England, so that helps.”

Buttler went on to score a hundred, although it did not mean much in the context of the game. Pant discussed the drop-catch. “When Bumrah bowls, he bowls with a different angle. So, sometimes we react to it (moving towards leg). That day I moved too much, and there was an edge. It was not too difficult a catch; I could have pulled it off but that's also a part of the game. As a keeper you have to wait for the outside edge. That's what I have learnt.”

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Pant's rise has been a story of struggle, from catching the 3 a.m. bus from Roorkee to train at Delhi's Sonnet Club, to once staying at a Gurudwara when there was no other accommodation. The journey to becoming India's 291st Test cricketer has not been an easy one, but with Wriddhiman Saha injured, Dinesh Karthik out of form (and both 33), Pant appears to be the long-term option to keep wickets for India.

“I started from zero. There is struggle in everyone’s life, and there was in mine too. But you realise that if you work hard with dedication in anything, you will definitely achieve your goals.”

Pandya was amazed by Pant's confidence. “He is not afraid of anything,” he said after the first day's play.