T20 World Cup 2024: Pant and his cricketing smarts

A street-smart cricketer, Rishabh Pant doesn't mind looking ungainly for the sake of impact.
Last Updated : 11 June 2024, 15:05 IST
Last Updated : 11 June 2024, 15:05 IST

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New York: Those who haven’t walked the line between living and dying might mistake their ‘love’, ‘passion’, ‘desire’ or ‘obsession’ for/ with cricket as ‘life or death’. 

Please, stop!

Cricket is not life or death. This nuanced parlay between bat and ball is but a wonderful, sometimes whimsical, sport. Something organised to fill the inevitability of tomorrow with the beauty of the present, the unknown now. It’s nothing more, nothing less. 

All of this is to put in perspective what Rishabh Pant could well be sensing while taking guard.

The man slipped away from the slick hands of the Grim Reaper not long ago. What could a bowler/ a delivery do to him?

This is not to say he wasn’t as audacious, unorthodox or cheeky in the years since his international debut in 2017. If anything, he was included in the side for an exuberance which could not be ignored. 

In the first two games of the T20 World Cup, Pant has done what fits this narrative, a portrait which aligns with the one we’re used to. But, he has become so much more. 

It’s not something everyone is privy to because it’s, expectedly, lost to the subtlety of sport, the complexity of language and the conflagration of human interaction, but it’s there. There for those who want to see. 

There when he smiles. There when he’s being jocular. There when he ’keeps. There when he bats. There he exists. This is Pant. Period.  

A 26-year-old is now more child than man, but more ‘man’ because of that same thing. Pant has let go of being something he doesn’t want to be. He’s aware of the pitfalls of being an adult before time. Perhaps he’s also aware of the pitfalls of being human.

Pant met with a car accident on the Delhi-Dehradun highway, en route Rourkeee, on the night of December 30, 2022. He hit a divider and his car caught fire and he was helped to a quick escape by the locals. 

Help or otherwise, in this ghastly incident too you see Pant’s ability to assess the situation and react on demand. He didn’t allow the moment to take over. He took stock, reacted and maybe, just maybe, is alive because of that. 

That personality trait of his, this acute shrewdness, is just as evident when he plays. While comically vocal behind the stumps still, the last couple of games have shown how his street-smart brand of cricket is exactly what it takes to jump over pitch-related hurdles, especially the ones presented to batters at the Nassau County International stadium. 

When the rest of the side is restricted by the textbooks in their mind, Pant has been efficiently unorthodox. 

In India’s first game, against Ireland, he stuck to the basics for far longer than anticipated, but when he had done enough to ensure India would eventually cross the line anyway, he came up with a nonchalant reverse scoop over the ’keeper’s head to seal it.

In India’s second game, against Pakistan, he was really out of it, he couldn’t find his timing, but he went at the ball as if it didn’t matter, or so it seemed. 

The thing with that knock is that Pant was aware that the opposition could corner his side from that situation. They could have gotten comfortable setting conventional fields because the pitch was not an easy one to get runs on. He also knew that the guys coming after, although capable, were still going to rely on their technique to get by. 

Pant’s solution was to go hard at the ball and live with the consequences. Pant’s Plan B was to get well inside the line and use the space behind square. He was going to take his chances (he was dropped thrice), and he did not mind looking ugly doing it. 

When Pant chooses to be conventional, he is as stylish as they come, he’s a southpaw after all, but he doesn’t let himself be defined or restricted by that. He doesn’t mind soiling his kit if it means more runs, doesn’t mind if there are a million reels about all the times he’s fallen after an attempted scoop, doesn’t mind if his reverse hits don’t come off, doesn’t mind if he looks like someone who isn’t serious about his cricket. 

That’s where people get it wrong. There’s a difference between childish and child-like. Pant is the latter. He plays with the kind of love for the sport we don’t see these days. He plays as if it’s a Sunday afternoon in a little league game with no stakes. He even makes it seem that way when his team has its back against the wall in other formats. 

The format is immaterial to Pant. He only knows how to get things done for his team. 

He was this even before the accident, but now he wears a beautiful aura of gratitude. Surely, this is what happens to someone who has looked death in the mug and come away to talk about it.

Pant crawled when doctors said he shouldn’t. He walked when everyone said he couldn’t. He batted when even the coach wasn’t sure. He succeeded when none thought he could/ would/ should. 

Pant is an anomaly. He always was. He always will be. But that smile, it’s a new one, that’s what really gets you.  

Published 11 June 2024, 15:05 IST

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