“She’s talking to angels, counting the stars… Making a wish on a passing car”
Every time Rishabh Pant must have spotted a shooting star, his heart would have tugged at just one desire. Each occasion an eyelash fell, the young player would have repeated the same silent prayers before throwing it over his shoulder to fulfil the nineteenth-century folklore where such practices promised a step closer to one’s dreams. Superstitious, yes but to an upcoming cricketer who had the very same designation as that of India’s Midas Man, superstitions were all that he had.
And plenty of hard work. Rishabh Pant, India’s newest wicket-keeper on the block somewhere knew that an ominous future awaited him. The same that had befallen Parthiv Patel, Dinesh Karthik and even his contemporary Sanju Samson. Engulfed in MS Dhoni’s shadow, Pant who was just rising up the ladder in the cricketing circuit half prepared himself for a life in the oblivion, away from the national team. At least not till Dhoni was around.
“Talent” is a rather unscrupulous word that is thrown around randomly at every emerging youngster who braves the competition at the age-group cricket to stand among a bunch of equally hard working boys. There is Prithvi Shaw. Immensely talented. Shreyas Iyer and Washington Sundar are up there too. Shubman Gill made his mark in the Under-19 World Cup and Rajneesh Gurbani can make it big. Before, Vinod Kambli and Amol Muzumdar had been one of the most talented cricketers in India. While the former failed to cash in on his stupendous start where he had averaged 120 after seven games, the latter – a hero in the domestic circuit for scoring 11174 runs in 171 matches – never turned up for India. Talent then, is ambiguous, uncertain and even scary.
You are built up to play for India. A future international star. His technique will win games, you say. He will make a name, you assure him. But what if…?
Caught up in this muddle and aware of the uncertainty that awaited him, Pant continued with jaw-dropping scores in First-Class cricket. After a phenomenal 2016 U-19 World Cup where he scored 267 runs in six matches, Pant sent the Ranji circuit on fire, scoring 972 runs with four centuries including a triple hundred in only his fourth FC game. Though his stint with Delhi Daredevils the same year ended rather abysmally, he displayed that aggression was a part of his cricket when he scaled away to a 48-ball hundred for Delhi to become the fastest century maker in Ranji cricket. 972 runs at an average of 81 reinforced his promise, but a long wait still remained.
If Dhoni held on to his spot with a few sporadic performances in ODIs, it was Wriddhiman Saha’s safe pair of hands behind the stumps in five-day cricket that threatened to hamper Pant’s progress. Even when Saha was injured, Patel was called in and the selectors were well on route to push Pant’s foray. Just like it was expected. He wasn’t ready, they said. He still needed a few years to get going. Maybe a couple more, to allow him to flourish under Rahul Dravid in the India A tours. His selection in the T20I against England in 2017 January was termed hurried and he was pushed back into the ocean to swim with the other shoal who too were buried beneath expectations, hope and the dodgy mind of the selectors.
The human psyche works in weird ways. Give them a dose of freshly manifested tales and only half will lend a ear or raise any attention. Add a gallon of emotions and the same story will be written and rewritten in his honour. As Pant, who could have missed eyeballs before, braved tears and sentiments to end up as the lone man in Daredevils’ pursuit of RCB’s target in a league match in the IPL last year just hours after he had lit the burning torch that would cremate his father, the story of agony, of courage and of bravery refused to die out. All of 19, Pant stranded alone at the crease choked up a few times in his innings but carried away to strike one of the best fifties of his career. Despite the loss, it was a triumph of his temperament and his maturity that would allow him to handle the pain of being ousted as Delhi’s captain just days after he had guided his home side to the Finals of the Ranji Trophy earlier this year.
Life is not fair, Pant had heard but “you make your own luck” was not unheard either. He was struck off as Delhi’s captain but returned to blaze away to the second fastest century in the Syed Mushtaq Ali soon after. He was dropped from the team in the Nidahas Trophy after just two poor outings but returned to score 684 runs in this year’s IPL at a strike-rate of 173.60, with five fifties and one hundred. He was omitted for India’s squad to England for the ODIs but with an impressive show in List A games, Pant found a way to creep back in again.
As Pant made his Test debut and smashed the second ball that he faced for a six, flashes of Virender Sehwag’s aggression came to mind. Both are unfazed and both technically not the best. The 20-year-old has the knack of driving away from the body, as also falling over and playing around the front pad more than necessary. But in tough conditions he stuck around, watching the ball after that monstrous six. He is not the best with the gloves either – he stays further back than what should be ideal and gets up before the ball has pitched in, and yet he managed seven catches in the game.
It is temperament that has trumped technique for now but knowing Pant’s calibre, expecting him to overcome the lacks soon to find the perfect balance should not be a tough task.