July 19, 2022: He will by turn exasperate and entertain. There will be times with the Indian cricket fans shouting themselves hoarse about his immaturity when he gets out to a reckless stroke and there will be times when they will watch in disbelief when he brings off the most enthralling shots. Overall let us face facts. Rishabh Pant is a match winner, a batsman who can turn a match on its head, who can convert probable defeat into a glorious victory in an incredibly short time. Such cricketers should be encouraged and persisted with. His failures should be tolerated and in fact shrugged off.
This is nothing new in Indian cricket. Two of his predecessors with a similar approach, Kris Srikkanth and Virender Sehwag also were the subject of vilification and praise in equal measure. They too brought off the most audacious shots and were players for whom the opposing captain was at his wit’s end as to how to place the field. One just cannot do so when the batsman is playing the most unorthodox strokes almost all the time. And these days there are so many variations – the switch hit, the reverse sweep, the upper cut, the helicopter shot and so on.
Pant plays all these with a sureness that is astonishing. There are elements of risks in these strokes but the 24-year- old eliminates this most of the time. With youth on his side, he is confidence personified. This skill of his is not seen only in limited overs cricket but also in Test matches and that is what marks him out as a special talent.
Pant is clearly the next big thing in Indian cricket. Before coming on the tour of England he had done enough to mark him out as a future great. Four hundreds in 30 Tests while nearing the 2000-run mark at an average of over 40 and a remarkably high strike rate of 72 coupled with a strike rate of over 100 in ODIs told only part of his story. His admirable work in T-20 games have been well chronicled. But on the current trip he has taken another firm step towards greatness. A fifth century was notched up in the Test match and what a hundred! From 98 for five he and Ravindra Jadeja pulled things around with a partnership of 222 runs in just 38.3 overs that comprised breath taking batting despite the grim situation. Pant’s 146 off just 111 balls with 19 fours and four sixes had even the stern English critics running out of superlatives.
At Manchester on Sunday came his second highlight of the summer. He came in at 21 for two with the Indians chasing 260 and at the end of it all remained unbeaten with 125 the tourists coasting to victory with five wickets and 7.5 overs to spare. Again, he brought off several remarkable shots not in the textbook. His outstanding CV had one lacuna – the lack of an ODI hundred. Now that’s been filled in. Yes, he does not have a hundred in a T-20 international but it is only a matter of time before that too is notched up especially now that he is going higher up in the order.
Pant’s pyrotechnics with the bat somewhat camouflages his brilliance behind the stumps. He is remarkably agile, very supple and fit as he dives here, there and everywhere to latch on to a half chance. Frequently he has leapt in front of slip to complete the catch, so confident he is of getting to the ball. It must not be forgotten that he is the joint world record holder of most catches in a Test – 11. Yes, there can be little doubt that Pant is moulded for greatness.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)