Issue 8

Rishabh Pant: The Boy at the Centre of It All

“पाजी, जब ङारूरत पड़ेगी, तो घर से बुला के लाएंगे”

(When they’ll need me, they’ll come home to get me)

This was Rishabh Pant’s response to being dropped from the Delhi Ranji side in 2017. Ajay Jadeja, a veteran of the cricketing circuit, recalls this incident. The sport is usually unforgiving to players with this attitude – it is not about being confident in one’s ability, instead it reflects a sense of गुरूर (pride). Commendably, in the face of all the failures and criticism, this man has never changed and that, ultimately seems to have rewarded him. 

When you come in with a bit of flamboyance about yourself, as Rishabh did, you irk the cricket world. Sachin, Sourav, Laxman and Dravid were instant fan favourites because they were humble. On the flip side, Kohli, Sehwag and Dhoni have that fandom that elevates them to a near-god status (the title of God, of course, is reserved for Sachin alone). While somewhat similar to the latter three, Pant is different. He isn’t there to watch the ball, see new balls out, or even take his front foot to the pitch of the ball. Tumbling away while playing the pull over fine leg is more of his style. 

Anyone’s first memory of Pant has to be the Under-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2016. With two standout innings, 111 (96) against Namibia, and a sphincter-tightening 78 (24) against Nepal was what set him apart. Funnily, India was chasing just 170 in 48 overs – an easy chase under all circumstances. Yet, Pant being Pant was in a hurry, hence, a 78 off 24. With the IPL auctions just around the corner, who wouldn’t want to bet on this hard-hitter in the T-20 format!

A large chunk of that U-19 team found takers but Rishabh attracted the dough. The Delhi Daredevils decided to bring him home to try and turn their fortunes around. He had a decent first outing in the IPL, getting 198 in 10 games, and averaging it to 25. However, bigger things were yet to be set in motion. In 2017, Rishabh faces a heartbreak right before a game between DD and RCB – he lost his father who peacefully passed away in his sleep, knowing that he had seen his son register his first cap for India earlier that year. Hastily, Pant travels to and fro, attends the last rites, and makes it back just in time to play an innings that goes down as an ode to his father where he gets a lone warrior’s 57 in a lost Delhi cause. Despite the emotional turmoil, Pant makes 366 runs in 14 games that season, and the world notices this boy who was made of different mettle.

However, it was the next season that got his name on the lips of a billion Indians. In 2018, the Daredevils finished last, once again, but the only feather in their otherwise drab cap was Rishabh. He ended the season with 684 runs to his name in his 14 games, second only to Kane Williamson. He made it a memorable year. His scoop off of India’s premier fast bowlers were nothing short of mesmerizing. Pant had finally merited the world stage. 

His test debut before the ODI perplexed the public. In his 3rd test against England, he achieved a century and the murmurs began. India had already lost the game, and he was getting into a habit of coming good in inconsequential causes. He was also making a habit of throwing away his wicket in games where his team stood a chance. Yet, the selectors are convinced that this boy will cement his place in the Indian team in all formats as the wicketkeeper of choice.

Series after series, Pant becomes a controversial selection with DK, Ishan Kishan, Saha, Samson and even KL Rahul, lurking in the wings for their chances. Sometime before the 2019 World Cup, Pant became a fringe player. He was not selected for the squad that would travel to England to compete on the world’s biggest stage. When he was called up as a replacement player, he carelessly got out after a well-made 32 in the Semi-finals. The popular narrative became about just another talent who had majorly squandered away his time on the big stage. 

Fast forward to the Border Gavaskar Trophy of 2020-21. Pant has lost his place in the ODI and T20 sides to KL Rahul, and it is highly likely that Saha will play the tests. But Rishabh somehow gets a shot. After a valiant 97 in a drawn test match, we set our sights on Gabba, for the potential series-decider. Australia gets 369, India responds with 336, Australia put up a fighting 294, nearing Stumps on Day 4. India starts the day at 5/0, and now needs 324 on Day 5. A tall order on any pitch, much rather Fortress Gabba. And the same day, at 5 am in the subcontinent, our eyes glued to a thrilling finale for this smack-banger of a series, Rohit goes where? and Gill takes the Aussies to the cleaners with a quick 91. Rahane falls cheaply, with Pujara holding up the fort on the other end.

On the famous Gabba day, the Brisbane crowd was absent. There was an eerie silence, and slightest of knicks could be heard till the parking lot. The loudest voices on the day were probably the ones in Rishabh Pant’s head, as he came out to bat.

“He’s not fit enough to play for India”

“Tu Dhoni Banega??” (“Will you become like Dhoni??”)

“When Saha is fit, Rishabh is out of the side”

“Don’t pick him for England at least, this series is over anyway”

“He just got lucky”

“Keeper hoke bhi, catch pakad nahi paata” (“Even as a keeper, he couldn’t catch it”)

We need 161 with 44 overs left in the day. Pujara falls, Mayank, Shardul and Sundar too. It’s up to Pant to take us home and shed the image of unreliability. The norm would be to bat it out and protect one’s wicket but Pant only knows one way to bat; his own way. An innings full of lofted pulls over fine leg, no footwork square cuts past point, and a few ill-timed scoops over the keeper against a daunting Australian line-up culminated in a drive-through mid-off – causing the Indian team rush to the ground in delight, as a billion people watched the victory in awe.

“Fortress Gabba has been breached” made headlines in dailies across the country. An Indian side with enough injuries to fill a whole hospital ward had barraged past a strong Australia. At the centre of it all, as always, a 23-year-old from Haridwar and Delhi, with a proud attitude, and a unique spirit. Long live Rishabh Pant, may you conquer this sport, as you did at Gabba that day. हम तुम्हारे साथ है (we are with you!)

Picture Credits:

Arnav Mohan Gupta is a graduate in Economics and Finance and is currently pursuing a Minor in Entrepreneurship at Ashoka University. He plays cricket and has a keen interest in the world of sport. 

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