Loose Pant triggers Indian collapse

Rishabh Pant hits the ball to be out caught on day four of the first Test on Sunday. AP/ PTI

Rishab Pant is a kind of cricketer who excites and exasperates in equal measure.

He is a fearless hitter who can instil the fear of God in bowlers but his propensity for (mis)adventure always keeps them in with a chance to nail him. He is being groomed as M S Dhoni’s successor in limited-over cricket and is the first-choice wicketkeeper in Tests. While he may have the talent to be India’s No 1 choice in all forms, the question is, does he have the temperament to become one?

There’s no doubt that his wicketkeeping skills are far from the demands of Test-level cricket. He has a lot of fine-tuning to do in that department but what’s holding him in good stead is his batting. Pant idolises Aussie wicketkeeping great Adam Gilchrist and it’s not hard to understand where he gets his inspiration from.

On Sunday, the fourth day of the first Test, the little left-hander started off the innings with a lofted shot to the vacant long-on area for two off Nathan Lyon and a few balls later whacked the off-spinner for his first boundary before going for lunch. Upon resumption, Pant went berserk crashing Lyon for three consecutive fours before depositing the bowler over mid-wicket fence for a huge six. The Delhi lad continued to live by the sword and eventually died by it with Lyon having the last laugh.

When Pant was batting, India were going strong at 282/5 and were eyeing a total of at least 350 runs. His fall at 282 saw India’s innings end at 307 all out. While his mistake can be ignored in this match, the approach can’t become a habit. He has got out on both occasions in this Test, refusing to temper his aggression that was evident even during the series against England and Windies.  

Indian team’s assistant coach Sanjay Bangar, who also doubles up as batting coach, tried to defend the youngster.

“You will be surprised that he is a pretty mature player,” said Bangar when asked about Pant’s style of play. “In one of the home Tests against West Indies, he played differently. He is capable of playing both games and not only play his shots which we know he can. But he has another aspect to his game and for somebody who is just starting his career, (he is an) exciting prospect to have,” he offered which was hard to back up with examples.

Staying true to one’s nature or playing the natural game is all fine but in a team-game, there’s no room for individual gratification. Everybody has to perform to the requirements of the team in a particular situation. Even a batsman like Sehwag had to shun “see ball, hit ball” approach as India set out to draw their match here in 2008. He scored a 236-ball 151, accelerating only towards the end as India declared their second innings at 269/7.   

On prodding further, Bangar admitted Pant needs to plan his innings better but stressed on the necessity to not to kill his fearlessness.   

“When he walked in, we were 260-odd and immediately he released the pressure and gave us those quick 30-35 runs,” he pointed out. “Once he had put us in that position, we expected that with time and with a better approach and calculation, tactically he could have done better. But you don’t want to take the fearlessness away from him otherwise. Hitting against the turn and getting those boundaries, are high percentage shots. Those are the shots that many courageous players have played, so it’s a mix of aggression and caution both. And I think with time he will develop that,” he reasoned.

Only time will tell how Pant progresses with this style of play.

 

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