Rishabh Pant’s form in front of stumps helping him improve behind them

Rishabh Pant’s form in front of stumps helping him improve behind them

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Ravichandran Ashwin had bowled a faster and straighter one on a fourth-day Chepauk pitch, spotting Dan Lawrence’s forward movement. The England batsman had stepped out a little too early and the ball went through his legs. Wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant collected it down the legside and dived to his right to complete the stumping. It was a fantastic delivery from the off-spinner. The stumping was even better. Pant returned with four dismissals from the second Test – two catches and as many stumpings.

Pant’s improved ‘keeping is directly related to his current batting form. He is carrying the confidence to his glovework. This is very common in cricket. An impactful left-hander at No. 5 or 6, playing as a ‘keeping all-rounder, however, is less common. The 23-year-old’s development as a package since the Australia tour has added an extra dimension to this Indian team.

“There is the flashy left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman… I have a weakness for that kind of player! What an irresistible player Rishabh Pant is,” Adam Gilchrist wrote in a column last month. Pant has a long way to go to match his idol, but if his development continues on the right track, an adequate replacement for MS Dhoni is a not-so-distant possibility. Indian fans, too, are warming up to the youngster’s cricket. Not many moons ago, crowds in Indian grounds used to chant Dhoni’s name whenever Pant made a mistake. During the second Test in Chennai, Dhoni’s spiritual home, fans sang Pant’s name in appreciation.

Only his third season into international cricket, Pant has faced adversity. His ‘keeping has regularly been put under the scanner, and when his batting became inconsistent, he found himself in a tight corner. The erstwhile selection committee under MSK Prasad invested heavily in Pant, with an eye to groom him as Dhoni’s successor, but the ‘keeper-batsman’s progress had been slow. He lost his place in the limited-overs sides and wasn’t the first choice in Tests either. In Australia, Wriddhiman Saha played the first Test in Adelaide. Pant was brought back to the fold in Melbourne. He has been upwardly mobile since.

In three Tests in Australia, he scored 274 runs, including a 97 on a fifth-day Sydney pitch followed by a match-winning 89 not out at the Gabba. Impact-wise, he scored his runs at a strike rate close to 70. In the ongoing series against England, he has already scored 91 in the first innings of the first Test and 58 not out in challenging conditions in the first innings of the second.

Advice and support

During a conversation with this paper a couple of weeks ago, Pant’s personal coach Tarak Sinha was recounting the advice he had for his ward before the Australia tour.21 “You have to cement your place in the Indian team and batting is your biggest currency. Your ‘keeping will go through gradual improvement but you cannot let yourself and your team down as a batsman. That was my advice,” Sinha told this paper. The pep-talk had a technical angle too. “I told him to play his defensive shots against off-spinners off the backfoot to allow more time.” Pant has followed that advice.

Current BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has always backed Pant to succeed. “He is a brilliantly-talented batsman,” Ganguly had said, when he was mentoring Delhi Capitals in the IPL two years ago. He wasn’t bigging up a player from his team. He reiterated this even after becoming the BCCI chief, asking everybody to be patient with the left-hander. From Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh to Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh; the former India captain’s eye for talent is well known.

By dint of his improvement, Pant has become the Indian team’s first-choice ‘keeper-batsman in Tests even in home conditions. During the second Test on a rank turner, the Indian spinners looked comfortable to try different things, with Pant donning the gloves – a sign of growing confidence.

‘Back ’em to improve’

pant ashwin Rishabh Pant’s form in front of stumps helping him improve behind them Ravichandran Ashwin backed Rishabh Pant amid criticism. (AP)
After the match, Ashwin insisted on backing young Indian cricketers. “I didn’t think I would say this, but I’m coming out and saying this now. Because you asked this question, I couldn’t think of anything else,” Ashwin said at the post-match press conference, when he was asked about Pant’s improvement.

“About two months ago, we had a cricketer called Cameron Green who made his debut for Australia. And even before he made his debut, everybody said he was the next big thing. And as he was playing, I think he got one fifty in the entire series. I don’t think he got a wicket through the series.

But how much he was built up and how much confidence he was given back in Australia made me reflect back and think about how we as a community treat our cricketers when they come through; the young ones. It gave me a massive perspective,” Ashwin went along.

“Rishabh Pant is an excellent cricketer. There are many more excellent cricketers who are there in the squad and outside of the team scheme as well. They are all excellent, excellent cricketers. We believe they are excellent and that’s why they end up playing for the country. And when they play for the country, it almost feels like we are searching for what’s wrong with them.

“Rishabh Pant was always going to be a good cricketer. He was always going to improve. Only if we back them in such a way that they can improve, they will improve faster. But if you are going to find those loopholes and faults, cricketers are going to take that much longer. I think it’s more of a mindset issue for us. And I think as a community, we should be able to embrace how good a cricketer is.”

KL Rahul is currently India’s first-choice ‘keeper-batsman in white-ball cricket, being given the opportunity to settle down as the T20 World Cup (later this year) approaches. Pant, in current form, would be hard to ignore.


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