There was shock all around. Rishabh Pant walked back in anguish. Coach Rahul Dravid was aghast.
It was January this year. The second Test at the Wanderers was on the boil. A cameo from Pant could have swung the closely fought Test, India's way. Kagiso Rabada, in the midst of a hostile spell, got one to climb nastily and struck Pant on the gloves. The next delivery, only the third he faced, saw Pant recklessly charging down the track and managing only a fatal top-edge to a Rabada lifter.
Pant had been consumed by his `closed’ mindset in the Bull Ring.
The Indian camp was fuming. It was, arguably, the pivotal moment of the Test that the Proteas won against the odds.
After the match, Dravid spoke about shot-selection, the need to read situations and revealed he would have a dialogue with Pant. Whatever the conversation was, it worked magic! Dravid’s message had travelled to Pant.
Pant’s second innings 100 not out on a spicy pitch at the picturesque Newlands, Cape Town, in the decider was all about solidity and quality.
He disrupted the South African attack’s line with his left-handed brilliance.
That hundred against that South African attack on that pitch should rank among the great knocks conjured by Indian batters on foreign soil.
Pant had learnt from his mistakes. His hundred consumed only 139 deliveries, but it was a knock where heavy blows, cuts, pulls, drives, whips, and sweeps, were sandwiched between sound defensive work.
The punishing Pant is a game-changer and a match-winner. He has poise and balance even if he innovates with his falling shots.
Pant’s 89 not out of marauding strokeplay took India to a sensational Test series victory in the fourth innings at the Gabba, 2021.
He picks the length early and is ready with his response. Pant fires the ball through the gaps, smokes ‘em for huge sixes, and is now more circumspect with his shot selection. Watch closely and you will notice his footwork is organised.
In a masterstroke, the Indian think tank sent Pant at No 5 in the ongoing Edgbaston Test. Given responsibility and with India at 71 for four, Pant, during his scintillating 146, crossed 2000 runs in only his 31st Test with an average closing in on mid-40s.
Stunningly, four of his five centuries have come in South Africa, England, and Australia. His 114 at the Oval in 2018, and 159 not out at Sydney, 2019, in a series clinching knock, are nuggets that glitter bright.
An improving ‘keeper, Pant is a natural. His mental attributes now complement his power game. The conversation with Dravid lent the sunshine lad a timely lift.
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