Rishabh Pant: Audacious or injudicious?

Rishabh Pant hits the ball hard. He is fearless; he is different. But he will need to temper some of the strokeplay to the benefit of the Indian team.

Living by the sword: Rishabh Pant bats in his usual pugnacious, cavalier approach during the second Test against South Africa in Johannesburg.   -  Getty Images

To hit or not to hit. Left to himself, Rishabh Pant will continue to walk down the pitch and lambast the ball. That’s the way he bats. And that’s the way he will bat.

Pant may have put himself under scrutiny following that in-hindsight avoidable shot at The Wanderers. His temperament and shot selection looks to have annoyed the connoisseurs of the red-ball game but what if the team management and the selectors back Pant in his daring, at times adventurous, style of batsmanship?

I remember when he would smash the ball around at the Sonnet Club ‘nets’, noted coach Tarak Sinha and his assistant, Davendra Sharma, would never look to alter Pant’s approach. “Leave him alone,” was Sinha’s instructions to the team of coaches. Pant was always left alone to bat the way he wanted to.

Following the dismissal in the second innings of the second Test against South Africa it was argued that Pant’s shot may have cost India the match. This can be an unending debate but knowing Pant, he, too, would have regretted not contributing to the team’s total.

The Viru brand

Former players have been divided in their opinion on the kind of freedom that Pant has been extended for playing his shots. “What if that shot had landed in the stands,” asked former National selector Sarandeep Singh, who was a key supporter of Pant during his tenure. “You don’t get a batsman like Pant. He is the Viru (Sehwag) brand.”

Thirty-eight years ago Kapil Dev and Sandeep Patil were “disclipined” for getting out to aggressive shots in the Test against England at Delhi. That was the only time Kapil was dropped in his career and Patil never played another Test - his scores in that match being 30 and 41. The selectors deemed those shots as irresponsible. India lost that match. Just as it lost at The Wanderers.

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Patil was not spared the axe since Kapil was being dropped. Kapil did feel bad for Patil but never blamed the selectors. “I gave them the chance to drop me,” was Kapil’s response in one of his interviews to Sportstar. Times have changed. Pant will not suffer a similar fate even if he repeatedly gets out to aggressive shots.

The game has changed is the refrain you hear often. The game has indeed changed. The shots being played are astonishing. Fast bowlers are facing the ignominy of being swept and reverse swept. Pant has been the chief architect of this sensational approach. But does Pant have the license to keep getting out to shots which traditionally are deemed rash?

Too many chances

It was Pant’s dashing show that won India the match at the Gabba earlier this year. It was one of India’s greatest victories in Test cricket and Pant crafted it with his strokeplay. He continued to bat in the same vein the whole year but there was always the fear that he was taking too many chances.

It is said that he looks at the ball and not the pitch. But then the ball can look different after pitching too. Pant reportedly pre-empts the ball. He hits the ball hard. He is fearless. He is different. He, however, will need to temper some of the strokeplay to the benefit of his team.

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Rahul Dravid, one of the finest Test batters ever, spoke his mind when he said that no one was going to tell Pant to alter his style.

“We know Rishabh is a positive player. He plays in a particular manner which has got him success. But there are times we will have a level of conversations with him around. It is just about the timing of that shot. No one is going to tell Rishabh not to be a positive or aggressive player.”

‘Match winner’

It is also about putting value to your wicket. Sunil Gavaskar would want the bowler to toil to get his rewards. True, Pant may not be half the batsman he is if he decides to curtail his strokeplay but what of the ripple effect it may have on the line-up? It is one thing to play your natural game but then it also can’t be the shield to hide behind when you make it easier for the bowler.

Dravid, like a good mentor, has stood behind Pant even as criticism has grown around the wicketkeeper-batsman’s shot selection. If his frequency of getting out to fancy shots in Test matches increases, Pant will surely feel the heat and the need to assess his approach. “I will back Pant to keep playing the way he plays. He is a match-winner as simple as that,” asserts Davendra Sharma, who has shaped Pant’s career by consistently supporting his strokeplay, especially stepping out to fast bowlers.

The current selectors may not revisit the 1984 scenario and hang Pant for another blemish as long as he has the backing of Dravid. For all the criticism, Pant is quite capable of shutting down any negative assessment of his batsmanship with a good knock or two in the next Test at Cape Town. But it will be his approach that will keep him under scrutiny. To hit or not to hit is a predicament only Pant can resolve.

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