In the last decade, India gained a remarkable leader of men in Virat Kohli, a man who symbolised a new spirit of a nation eager to assert itself on the world stage. Kohli is a prolific run-getter in all forms of cricket, but in terms of the approach to batsmanship, it is Rishabh Pant who provides something more unique, something soothing - an unhindered, carefree spirit that seems to ease all the pain and hardships of the ruthless world, if only for a moment.
To be sure, Virender Sehwag did provide India with a refreshing new approach to batting in 2000s. Many of his innings are memorable ones, but what is more tangible and permanent is the man behind it all: Sehwag still entertains with unique quips on social media and loves to laugh even as he dabbles in intelligent punditry. Cricket is just a game, after all; better enjoy it and not take it too seriously.
Pant seems to have taken the baton from him. The big question when he comes out to bat is: when will he step down the pitch to tonk the ball? And can he play more maturely without compromising on his ideology? At the PCA stadium here on Friday, not many days after all the fuss about his recklessness and an acceptance from coach Rahul Dravid about his need to be just a little more discreet, he was at it again, razing Sri Lanka’s bowlers – especially spinners – in spectacular fashion. But Pant was ready to bide his time, too, to make it count. Just eighth ball into his innings, he came down the track to Lasith Embuldeniya to loft one over deep midwicket, as if to signal that he had come out to bat. Over the next 70-odd deliveries in his innings, he was keen just to nudge the ball around and pick up the odd boundary, before going berserk, collecting 22 off one over and moving from 51-75 in just nine deliveries.
He was distraught at being dismissed bowled for 96, Suranga Lakmal cutting him into half as the ball snuck through his defences. His whirlwind knock, off just 97 deliveries, meant India had more than 350 on the board at the end of day one, in just 85 overs. A century would have been great, but players like Pant aren’t valuable for their centuries alone.
Pant has respectable stats in Tests, but they can’t be termed extraordinary. What separates him from the rest, however, is just the spectacle and his ability to enliven and turn around contests. From the perspective of the team, his innings can deflate opponents a la Sehwag – Sri Lanka appeared so resigned at one point that Dhananjaya de Silva, the bowler, smiled repeatedly in amusement after being hit for runs.
The announcer at the stadium hadn’t been able to rev up the crowd in the first two-thirds of the day – except when Kohli was batting – but his voice wasn’t needed later on as the crowd was thoroughly entertained. India’s day had been redeemed, and all was well.
The man who handed India the magnificent series win at the Gabba had once again shown how special he was.