18th August 2018: A young Indian side under Virat Kohli set foot at the iconic Trent Bridge for the third Test match in the five-match series against England. Two games down, the visiting side were under enormous pressure to change the fortunes of the team in this must-win encounter.
On a bright sunny day and with a surface that offered a tinge of live grass, England elected to field first. With the series on the line and a dismal performance at the Home of Cricket earlier that week, the Indian team made a flurry of changes to their playing XI and handed a Test debut to Rishabh Pant at Trent Bridge.
Despite featuring in his maiden appearance in the longest format of the game and the quality possessed by the England bowling unit of England, Pant smashed Adil Rashid for a second ball six to rewrite record books by becoming the first Indian player to get off the mark with a six in the Test arena.
Three years later and 21 Test matches old, Rishabh Pant will don the gloves as the first choice wicket-keeper for the Indian team as they kickstart their campaign in the second edition of the World Test Championship at the same venue.
Tracing the journey of Rishabh Pant
With plenty of ebb and flow, Rishabh Pant has graduated from being a rookie to one of the mainstays for the Indian team in the span of three years.
While his exploits with the bat were making the noises for the right reasons, his wicket-keeping abilities in the challenging conditions with the ball wobbling around raised doubts about his ability to become India's first-choice keeper.
After a heroic start to his Test career, the southpaw smashed a scintillating hundred in the final match of the series to announce his arrival at the international arena. However, things soon started to go downhill for him as the runs seemed to have dried up at the international level, and so did his performance with the gloves.
Although he was given a long rope to get back into form, considering his inexperience and the immense ability he possesses to become a match-winner, Pant failed to grab the opportunity and lost his place in the playing XI for the home series against the Proteas.
Decoding the chink in his glove-work
One of the significant aspects missing in his wicket-keeping skill was the hand-eye coordination and lack of footwork in order to gather the ball cleanly. With the home conditions offering plenty of turn and bounce, he often failed to collect the ball and missed plenty of chances.
After a setback of being dropped from the playing XI against South Africa, Pant put in gruelling hours of sessions under the watchful eyes of Kiran More. The duo worked on getting his hand position and his body balance in the right order to fine-tune his keeping skills in the red ball cricket.
Despite the efforts, a string of low scores against New Zealand away from home and a below-par Indian Premier League last year, he lost his place in the white-ball format of the Indian team for the tour Down Under.
The turning point
The phase post the completion of the Indian Premier League in late 2020 was probably the most challenging period in the short international career of Pant. The 23-year old silently went about his business away from the glaring eyes of the media as the Men in Blue were involved in an intense white ball series before the Test matches in Australia.
With consistent doubts regarding his future in the longest format and his struggle with fitness, Pant silenced his critics with an incredible comeback in the series. After a shaky start to the tour, he scripted one of India's finest performances at the Gabba, helping the team clinch the series 2-1 on the Australian shores.
A commanding display of skill and temperament, the young batting sensation was back on home soil with the turning pitches on offer against the mighty Englishmen. Toying with greats like James Anderson once again established Pant's unmatchable natural ability. Winning the series when India qualified for the World Test Championship final, the head coach Ravi Shastri acknowledged how Pant worked his "backside off" to storm his way back into the side.
The road ahead
With consistent performances and an array of strokes all around the ground, he was touted as a player to watch out for in the summit clash of the inaugural WTC. While he showcased glimpses of his stroke-play in the second innings at the Ageas Bowl during the WTC final, the five-Test match series against England in swinging condition will possess a different challenge for the youngster.
With the ability to play a fearless brand of cricket and take the game away from the opposition in a span of one session, Rishabh Pant will hold the key for the Indian team in their bid to clinch the coveted Test Championship. If one were to ask the English, Pant would be the most discussed batsman in their planning after Virat Kohli.
In less than 24 hours, as he strides out for the first day of this historic Test match, fond memories of his Test debut will come flashing back.
However, this time around, he will be a little bit older and a lot wiser as he shoulders the responsibility of the side in alien conditions in their pursuit of creating history on England soil.