Aakash Sivasubramaniam
15 Oct 2022 | 03:07 PM

Rishabh Pant’s time to be a superhero

Pant’s numbers in T20Is are ordinary, you wouldn’t need an expert to read into that

“In adversity, he found out a better version of himself,” uttered former Indian fielding coach R Sridhar on Rishabh Pant.

Pant’s fortunes in world cricket turned a new page after his exploits in the longest format of the game. Everyone, from the small lanes of Delhi to the lanes of Brisbane were in awe of the southpaw’s batting style. But there was a catch, this sort of constructed a wrong opinion on Pant, the batter.

Ever since his display in Australia, Pant has always been considered as an instant lock across all the formats. It wasn’t until earlier this year, the selectors were bold enough to say, maybe there is more to this Indian team than Pant, making Dinesh Karthik a permanent fixture in the setup. Going into Australia for the T20 World Cup, India will need Pant to step up.

“It is such a shame if Rishabh Pant doesn’t feature in this Indian T20 team. He walked in as this fearless player full of intent and bravery. We have seen that time after again in Tests. He is so good to watch in Test cricket, a unique talent. Not sure if it has been coached to him or what, he has just gone into a shell too much,” notable cricket analyst Dan Weston told in Wrong’Uns with Weston.

You may wonder if he is not in the pecking order, why would India need him in the first place? The answer: Ravindra Jadeja’s injury. His injury has indeed opened up a pandora box for the Men in Blue. Over time, they have figured out a solution or two. But that doesn’t eliminate Pant completely out of the picture.

Pant is perhaps the only recognised left-handed batter in the entire squad, including the reserves. India paid a heavy price over the years for not having an adept left-right combination at the 2021 edition of the tournament. It only makes the left-hander’s presence more imperative.

But India need to unleash a rather different version of Pant, the Hulk-version that the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been witness to, in adversity.

A slaughter-house against pace

Even though Pant has slowed down in the recent years, his numbers at the death are quite extraordinary in the IPL. Across all seasons of IPL, he has played, the left-hander strikes at a threatening pace of 200 at the death. Till date, sides are threatened by his presence at the crease, where they try to restrict his scoring zone, bowling wide outside the off-stump.

“I think it has diluted his natural attacking talent that he has shown when he broke onto the scene. He has effectively lost his place to Karthik, that’s a real shame. I want to see Pant play, he is someone I would pay money to watch at his peak,” Weston added.

It is one of the most used ploys against Pant. Despite that, in the IPL, Pant has numbers that are pretty scary to read: a boundary every 3 deliveries almost at the death, which makes for a compelling case in a country like Australia.

While it is a different format altogether, Pant’s heroics in Australia might be fatal during selection. Australia is one of those places where new players have often found it daunting and intimidating. But if history is indeed suggestive of anything, then the left-hander could perhaps be India’s solution to the one-handed worry.

Even in T20Is, for a person who has struggled immensely in his career, a strike-rate of 136 against pacers is one that has the potential. His prime weakness or his Achilles heel thus far in his short career has been spin, in the shortest format.

Australia is least of the friendly conditions for spinners, which might tempt the management to play the left-hander. In case you forgot, time and again in the IPL, Pant has been a slaughter house against the pacers. Plenty of Indian pacers, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar amidst the others have struggled against the left-hander.

The best of Pant

At the Wankhede Stadium, back in 2019, Pant walked out to bat against the eventual champions, Mumbai Indians. On a night where the rest of their batting unit were stuttering in terms of their strike-rate, the left-hander stood out like a gem. Perhaps, it is night like those which have made people rate Pant so highly in T20s.

Against a bowling attack that had Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Mitchell McClenaghan, Ben Cutting and Rasikh Salam, Pant batted like he had a sword in his hand. While the start was slow, the left-hander gained momentum almost too quickly, for MI to go from okay to well, where have we landed ourselves.

Wankhede perhaps has surfaces which can be compared to the ones in Australia, there is bounce for the pacers, some initial movement and with some bigger boundaries, an incentive to clear. In the third delivery of the 17th over, the left-hander continued to stun one us all, casually flicking Bumrah over the leg-side boundary for a massive six.

On that night, it didn’t matter if it was Bumrah, Salam or Pandya, the results were all the same, as the ball went sailing into the roads and perhaps the Maidaans of Mumbai, ending with a score of 78 off just 27 balls. It is that brute force and power that he exhibits which can make him an X-factor in conditions like Australia, where conditions are slightly in favour of the batters

Pant has his glaring weakness – an average of 24.02 and a strike-rate of 127.45 in T20Is – but if he does without a license on his wicket, he might be more than a handful for India during the middle-overs. Since 2021, in T20Is, for batters who have played at No.5, Pant has the fourth-lowest strike-rate, a big concern. There are certainly red flags around him but the best of the potential has been witnessed before.

As Sridhar said, it is the adversity that brings the best out of Pant. It is an adversity now, India don’t possess a left-hander in Jadeja’s absence in the top five and it is time for the 24-year-old to bring out the superhero in him.

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