October 17, 2016 12:39:33 am
Rishabh Pant was desperate to bat with his hero Virender Sehwag, but his wish went unfulfilled as Sehwag had moved to Haryana by then. When he shared his disappointment with the swashbuckling opener, he was told: “Koi nahi, mere jaise batting karna!” (No worries, just bat like me). With that kind of ashirwad, who is going to stop the kid from having a blast in the middle? No surprise then to see Sehwag tweet, “Rishabh Pant ney pant utar di. 308, brilliant innings against Maharashtra”. It’s pertinent here to record that it’s a similarity in their intent, not of the batting style.
Another tale he shared from the game perfectly captures that Sehwag spirit. Last evening, he had said it wasn’t for publication but agreed when pressed a day later.
“Maaro na, first tier (of pavilion) pey ek bada six!” Pant had a request for Maharashtra Swapnil Gugale on the second day. “I will but after I get my 300,” said the opener who ended up scoring 351. “Aakhri tak nahi maara, bhai!” So, the man called as “Chota Gilly” by the management group (after Adam Gilchrist), decided to hit one himself when he got the chance to bat. He bashed a six on to the first tier, on to the dressing room balcony. “Isiliye, meine ek udhar maara!”
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Such episodes pretty much sets him apart from the other young triple centurions in Ranji history. His recent exploits suggest that it won’t be a surprise if Naman Ojha is forced to remain as a stand-by option when MS Dhoni retires. He fell when Delhi were still 58 runs adrift of Maharashtra’s 635, stumped after he charged the left-arm spinner, and the last three wickets fell in a heap. It was a memorable match for Maharashtra’s captain Swapnil Gugale — a 351 on his first game as captain to help his team fetch 3 points. He was lavish in his praise of Pant. “He singlehandedly took the game away. When we were batting, I had a partner and we were scoring equally. He… on his own.” Maharashtra coach Srikant Kalyani called it “astonishing innings”.
The pitch was a road, and the bowling pretty average, but the amount of runs, and the style in which it was looted, would put the teenager in India’s radar for the future. The Delhi coach KP Bhaskar talked up the kid by citing the last-round’s game against Assam. “Here you can say he hit the spinners by and large, but there, Abu Nachim and others bowled a lot of bouncers at him. And he went, ‘accha mere zone mey aa raha hai, toh maroonga’ and he pulled them to the boundary a lot.” How he bats against better bowlers and handles non-patta tracks remains to be seen, but there were enough sparks in the knock to keep us interested to track him. He isn’t the typical big-hitter who usually bat down the order and swing big. He is more of a batsman who likes to punch the seamers, and loft the spinners. The batting isn’t stylish in the classical sense of the word, but the attractive approach, his intent would make him a crowd-pleaser. He isn’t a boundary or bust kind of a player, defends the seamers a lot as well, and also, seems to take delight in cutting the spinners.
A deep point was placed for him, and he repeatedly collapsed his arms, and wristed the ball square. Or he would go down the track and place it well to the left of deep cover. When his mood seized him, he took on the long-on fielder, managing to clear comfortably, and hitting pretty close to the sight screen. And he handled the task of batting with the lower order really well.
The immediate future where he would bat against better opposition and in more testing conditions would reveal a better picture but Indian cricket can welcome an entertainer. Even the way he sets targets for himself is pretty unique, cute even. Before the start of Ranji Trophy, he had told himself that he would take off his helmet and celebrate only after he gets a double ton. A hundred wasn’t enough. And so he retained the helmet in the last game after the landmark.
“Jab tak 200 nahi hoga, helmet nahi utrega,” he said. “Aaj 200 karke helmet nikaala itne dino ke baad, bahut accha laga. Everyone gets 100, 200 mein alag feel aata hai. Ab kuch alag sochna padega!” (200 has a different feel, now I need to think of some thing else).
His initial cricketing hero was Adam Gilchrist, and he has picked up more idols as the years have gone by. “At start it was Gilchrist because both of us are left-handers and wicketkeepers, but it kept changing. I follow VK bhai (Virat Kohli) and Dhoni bhai in keeping.” His coach and mentor is Tarak Sinha, the man who has produced 12 India cricketers and numerous Ranji players. “My aim is to play for India but now focus is on Ranji Trophy”. This was the longest time that he has ever batted. He has been on the field on all the days, wicketkeeping on the first two and batting from third afternoon. He was asked by his team whether he would like to rest, and not keep, on the third evening for the 15 overs that Maharashtra batted but he declined. The U-19 success and IPL had already intimated him of his rising popularity — and so at home he worked on his signature. “Earlier I used to write my name, but then I thought it’s not interesting and have to find something new. So then I practiced something at home, which looks like an autograph.”
At Wankhede stadium, even as he was talking to the media, the fans had started to yell his name. He walked across to sign a few autographs, couple of them on 1000 rupees note. Someone squeezed a selfie stick through the wire-mesh, and he obliged by clicking a few snaps with them. “Aajkal toh selfies hi chalta hai.”
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