Barely a month ago, Rishabh Pant had been in the line of fire for playing a reckless and pre-meditated shot against Kagiso Rabada at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.
After being beaten outside the off stump off the first delivery, Pant threw caution to the winds a ball later, stepping out and attempting a slog before nicking to the wicketkeeper. It prompted Sunil Gavaskar to lash out in his inimitable style. “...No excuses for that shot, no excuses. None of that nonsense about that being his natural game. There is supposed to be a bit of responsibility shown,” the batting legend said.
Be it head coach Rahul Dravid’s “hard talk” which has become a regular feature with the players or Rohit Sharma’s man management skills or Pant’s realisation that he needs to stop his self-destructing ways, a sensational change in approach has since brought about a steady flow of runs for one of the most exciting players in contemporary cricket.
An unbeaten century in the second innings in Cape Town was followed by an electrifying 96 in Mohali and a record-breaking 50 in Bangalore. Without sacrificing on discipline, Pant has batted with the flourish and extravagance of a multi-millionaire at a casino, dealing mostly in boundaries.
“You need to keep evolving, I’ve made mistakes in the past and want to keep improving,” was Pant’s candid admission after receiving the Man of the Series award on Monday.
He has grasped the art of instinctive batting. Even if he realises midway through a shot that he has erred, he will go through with completing it while making subtle last-minute adjustments. Comparisons with Virender Sehwag or Adam Gilchrist have been flowing but what has stood out has been Pant’s ability to keep his mind clear from the clutter.
While his method remains uncomplicated and delightful, the quality of his strokeplay always stands out. His technique isn’t copybook and he doesn’t possess the gifted hand-eye co-ordination of Sehwag, but quicksilver reflexes and the power he induces into his strokes make him special.
The calm assurance he has started to bring to the table will always place him in the pantheons of established players. He has now made the No.5 position his own in Test cricket for the sheer ability to provide momentum and make the rival bowling look chaotic. The Indian team management is ready to let a more technically sound Shreyas Iyer drop to No.6, which means they are willing to instil the fear factor into the opposition, which Pant successfully evokes, early in the innings.
Rohit is keen to gamble on him at No.5 and save Shreyas as a cushion for the latter part of the innings. Like Sehwag at the top of the order, teams will have to consider the Pant factor before setting a target. Don’t forget, he averages 40.85 at a strike-rate of 70.
Tim Paine realised it the hard way at the Gabba when India breached the fortress chasing down a 328-run target. Sri Lanka feared his presence after Mohali and he struck seven fours and two sixes in a robust 50 off 31 balls.
He may struggle in overseas conditions at the outset, but once he familiarises with the bounce and movement, there’s no stopping him. Australia, England and South Africa bowlers will testify.
Still, old habits die hard and Rohit knows it well. He is ready to accept Pant’s profligate and dangerous ways in order to achieve success. “There will be times when you will smash your head and say ‘why did he play that shot’... but again we need to be ready to accept that with him when he bats,” the Team India captain said in Bangalore.
Whether Pant 2.0 can mend such sinful ways will decide if he can be the X-factor in Rohit’s team.