July 10, 2019 will forever be etched in the memory of every Indian cricket fan as the day of regret. The Indian fans had to see their dream of a world cup final suffer a heartbreaking end as the Indian team lost to a high flying jubilant New Zealand team by 18 runs. Chasing 240 to win India were placed at a precarious 2 wickets for 5 runs when a 21 year old stocky built batsman from Delhi walked to the wicket. Rishabh Pant had been promoted to number four and post his arrival he saw yet another batsman perish. He began a slow and uncharacteristic rebuild with the third wicket keeper in the side in the form of Dinesh Karthik who fell when the score was reading 24.
An early promise but a sad end
The 21 year old Rishabh Pant put his head down and added a crucial 47 runs with all rounder Hardik Pandya and for the first time the Indian fans could sense something big brewing. That hope soon disappeared when he faced left arm spinner Mitchell Santner and proceeded to slog sweep him into the waiting hands of a fielder placed for that shot. He put his head down in utter shock and sadness knowing the implication of his wicket and what it would mean to the Indian chances. Fast forward to Brisbane on 19th January, 2021 nearly a year and a half from that cold day in Manchester, Rishabh pant played a full blooded slog sweep much to the delight of the fans against the imperious Nathan Lyon to give India a chance of an unlikely win against Australia at the Gabba. Rishabh Pant had undergone a lot in the interim of that cold day on July 2019 to the hot summer day down under on January 2021 and from the surface of it he looks hungrier and more disciplined and more focused as he embarks on his quest to become the best wicket keeper in the world.
No lockdown blues for Rishabh Pant
While the world was gripping with the deadly Coronavirus Pandemic nearly the whole of last year, India too was undergoing its battles with the virus during the long and tough lockdown measures put it place. The young Pant like many had to make do with the best of the situation and it was during these times that he got in touch with former Indian player Suresh Raina. During the long uncertain days where physical contact was discouraged and very minimal physical activity undertaken, the young wicket keeper sought out the former Indian player Suresh Raina who is a role model for many young cricketers in the country. Pant was quick to sound out the 34 year old Raina and all Pant hoped for was an ear who could just hear him out and he vent out his feelings, frustrations and fears. The old veteran knew what the youngster had been going through as he too faced the same during his breaking into the Indian team phase. As per Raina “He is a young cricketer bursting with talent who in my view is set to become a great player for India. Back in June, he’d just come off a not so good time with the bat. There was a lot of talk about him. So, he just wanted a break from it all, from the media and from everything. All he wanted me to do was listen. He wasn’t looking for me to give anything, forget a solution”.
Suresh Raina the sounding board for Rishabh Pant
The Indian wicket keeper proceeded to bear his heart out to the much older former India cricketer and seemed to be looking to find a source of outlet from where he can let go of his nervous energy. Raina happened to be the person and he gave an insight of how Pant approached the time away from the game and his interactions with the young wicket keeper was when they spent time together “When we weren’t at training, he would be home all day, playing with my kids, chatting with the wife. We watched a lot of comedies on Netflix, ate a lot of good food, whatever he felt like eating, and just chatted away. We would go for drives around the city, either in his yellow car or at times in mine. We would listen to the music that we both enjoy. It was all so positive and even during those drives, he would open up a lot, and all I did was let him talk,
Move over careless Pant, Welcome much wiser Pant
The Indian cricketers had the chance to return to the field during September as the BCCI announced the delayed IPL will be played in UAE. Rishabh Pant had an indifferent IPL scoring just 343 runs from the 14 games he played for the Delhi Capitals. His big moment came in the finals against Mumbai Indians where he scored an imperious 56 runs of 38 balls with four fours and 2 huge sixes after Delhi were in a spot of bother at 22 for 3. Not much had changed since that cold day in Manchester, but one person had it was the then 22 year old Pant who assumed the role of a senior statesman and forged an important partnership with Shreyas Iyer. That innings though did not stop the Mumbai Indians from winning their fifth title, but it showed the world a wiser Rishabh pant had arrived and he was here to stay.
Australia the first stop after the re-discovery
It must have hurt Pant enough to see KL Rahul don the gloves during the white ball format, it’s like taking a can of spinach out of Popeye’s hand it’s like taking the sticks out of a drummers hand, it is sacrilegious but Rishabh Pant gulped this down and was working steadily with the Indian test team. His moment of reckoning came in the second warm up game where he scored a quick fire century at SCG, but he again had to endure one mini heartbreak when he saw Wriddhiman Saha take the gloves during the first test at Adelaide. Pant like a million Indians saw with disbelieving eyes his team collapse to a lowly 36 and become part of the ridicule.
Reformed India and Recalled Pant a union made in heaven
Ajinkya Rahane though did not waste time in getting the 23 year old back into the team and Pant showed his intent by playing a quick fire cameo when the Indian innings looked in quandary and that cameo was seen a cornerstone for the Indian fight back. The next test match was the emergence of Pant as he showed great guts to come and bat in the second innings after he was stuck on the arms in the first innings and sat out the entire third innings with Saha donning the gloves. The 5th day’s play saw Pant open his shoulders put the Australian team on the defensive chasing 407, within a span of couple of hours he made India a firm favorite for a win. The old Pant struck one last time when he went for a heave only to be caught by Cummins of Lyon for a well made 97. The next week though Rishabh Pant became a conquering hero as he scored a 89 of 138 balls with all the slog sweeps, cheeky ramp shots and dances down the wickets in full show. Within a week Pant had transformed himself into a toast of the nation, as soon as he drove Hazlewood down the ground and twirled his bat in delight looking at the pitch in relief he would have seen the ghosts of Manchester being burned and exorcised, all the mocks and self doubts being done away, all the hard graft and uncertainty being thrown away, for India the successor to MS Dhoni was finally spotted.
Pant’s finally under the spotlight and he needs to shine bright and long
Pant though has one final choice to make either to give palpitations to the opposition or keep his own countrymen on the tenterhooks and for some reason it seems the 23 year old has made a decision to opt for the former as his mature 89 at Brisbane exhibited. The chirpy 23 year old wants to be the best wicket keeper in the world! By the time he finishes his career a decade or so later he will want to be known as not only the best wicket keeper in the world but also someone who banished the large shadows of MS Dhoni and carried Indian cricket to a better place on his strong shoulders. In some corner of his heart though he will be waiting for another go at New Zealand as the blazing blade of Rishabh pant is waiting for the last piece of puzzle in his redemption story to be complete with its logical end and this time the Indian fans will be cheering the name of Rishabh Pant.