January 7, 2017 4:11:32 am
“Sir, I want to bat at No.5.” Delhi’s coach KP Bhaskar admits he was taken aback by this unexpected request from Rishabh Pant at the start of the Ranji season. At 19, with just two first-class games under his belt and despite an IPL contract, Pant was very much a green horn. But what impressed Delhi’s newly appointed coach was the teenager’s exuberance and his supreme confidence in his abilities. “I will grant your request, but you will have to score runs for me,” Bhaskar responded candidly, indicating his willingness to yield to his young ward’s plea.
Pant was elevated to his preferred slot in the batting order, and Milind Kumar — the more experienced incumbent — was pushed down to No.6. On the face of it, this seemed very much like a calculated gamble. However, a little more than three months down the line, the move can well be termed a masterstroke.
That’s because Rishabh Pant responded to his coach’s faith by bludgeoning four hundreds in his first full Ranji season, which also included an incredible triple century against Maharashtra at the Wankhede Stadium.
With 972 runs, he also finished as the fourth highest run-getter this Ranji season. The huge mountain of runs has now helped Pant earn a spot in the upcoming T20 series against England.
Coach Bhaskar concedes he is not surprised at Pant’s international call-up. He believes the youngster should have been blooded during the recently concluded Test series against England, in place of the injured Wriddhiman Saha. “I’m not surprised by his selection. In fact, I was hoping he would get a call during the Test series against England after Saha got injured,” Bhaskar quips.
The Delhi coach has his reasons. He reckons the best time to blood a youngster is when he is in top form. Pant, on his part, had got off to a rollicking start this Ranji season, so much so that he had already racked up over 500 runs after just three games.
“Why wait?…you have had instances in the past when players had made their international debut at 17 and 18. Pant was in incredible form in the first half of the season, so why not expose him when he is in top form,” Bhaskar explains.
Pant’s request to bat up the order may have propelled him to score at such a prolific rate, but Bhaskar refuses to take credit for triggering the move. He adds that it’s Pant’s confidence, bordering on sheer insouciance, which sets him apart from the rest of the 19-year-olds. This is precisely what has helped him in his batting as well.
“The day he requested me to push him up the order, I sensed his confident and extrovert personality. This is a trait that has rubbed off on his batting as well. He just annihilates the opposition bowlers into submission. This has helped us on two fronts: Firstly, it puts the opposition bowlers into a shell. And secondly, it helps other batsmen to bat will a lot more ease. He has been a revelation for us at No.5. Too bad, we did not qualify for the knock-outs, or else he would have easily gone past 1100 runs,” he adds.
Going forward, Bhaskar opines the transition to international cricket will be a stern test for the lad from Roorkee. What he needs to do is curb his attacking instincts.
Tarak Sinha, his long-time mentor and coach at Delhi’s Sonnet Club concurs with Bhaskar’s views. Having seen him since he was only 12, Sinha says Pant is a “special talent.” What sets him apart from the rest is the extra time he has to play his shots. “Pehli baar dekhe mujhe pata chal gaya tha ki yeh bada player banega…kyonki woh jaldi bowler ko read kar pata hain,” Sinha says, and adds that he has to curb his aggression if he wants to prosper in international cricket. “He has all the shots. But he needs to curb his aggression and learn to adapt under match conditions and shift gears as and when required. Usko Dhoni se seekhna hoga. If he can do that, he can be the finisher India is looking for,” he notes.
He feels Pant’s triple hundred against Maharashtra was the highlight of the Ranji season. Belligerent and positive in equal measure, this innings was an incredible display of power-hitting. The coach, however, had a word of caution when Pant called him up after his epic knock two months ago. “When he called me after scoring the triple hundred, I told him: beta is innings ke baad tumne Delhi team mein apna jagah pakka kar liya hain. Lekin India team mein aane ke liye tumko lagatar run marne padenge.”
The gist of that conversation was the coach emphasizing his brightest ward the need to be consistent at the domestic circuit. Paying heed to his coach, Pant refused to slow down after his super-human efforts at the Wankhede. He then followed it up with back-to-back hundreds against an in-form Jharkhand, the second one being the fastest ever in first-class cricket.
Hard-nosed and old-school, Sinha wants Pant to be a regular in India’s Test squad. “This is just the first step he has taken. In the future, I want to see him as a consistent player scoring runs for India at Test match level. He surely has the potential and the temperament for it. Let’s see how it goes. I am happy at how the season has panned out for him,” Sinha signs off.
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