There lies a thin line between fearlessness and foolishness. That line is visible only after the result is out.
Pant’s career in Tests has been a tug of war between appearing fearless and appearing foolish. Yes, his natural game allows him to be aggressive and fearless. But, at times, he ends up being the anti-hero because of his lapse in understanding the situation.
The second Test at the Wanderers is the latest example. A reckless waft that handed him a duck in the second innings, raised a lot of speculation.
The little master Sunil Gavaskar, in particular, was displeased and vented out his frustration on air “With two new batsmen at the crease, him (Pant) playing that is forgivable and there is no excuse for that. None of that nonsense that it’s his natural game. There is supposed to be a bit of responsibility shown because there are others taking blows.”
Well, this is not the first time he has done something like this. Remember the game against New Zealand in 2020 at Christchurch or the ICC World Test Championship Final at Southampton in 2021. In both innings, Pant was dismissed cheaply and ridiculously.
In the first innings of the WTC final, coming into bat at 149 for 4, Pant carelessly slashed at a ball that was wide outside off and saw his demise in that innings at a score of four. Though he contributed in the second innings, Pant was once again in the radar for his shot selection. His habit of dancing down to pacers whenever under pressure failed as he top-edged a rather innocuous Trent Boult delivery.
The WTC final sort of started a dip in Pant’s stocks. In the Leeds Test in 2021, India were reeling at 56 for 4 in the first innings and were further let down by Pant’s carelessness. In his 18-ball stay in the first innings, Pant never looked comfortable and a negligent hack outside off ended his stay and India were bundled out for 78. The same happened in the second innings of that match.
After conceding a lead of 354, India had made a comeback of sorts with an 82-run second wicket partnership between Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara and a 99-run partnership for the third wicket between Pujara and Virat Kohli. Post the dismissals of both Pujara (91) and Kohli (55) at scores of 215 for 34 and 237 for four, a bit of solidarity was required at the moment. But, Pant once again failed to analyze the situation and chased a wide one.
The second Test against South Africa wasn’t very different from these situations. Agitated by a few words from the short leg fielder Rassie van der Dussen, Pant chose to dance down the wicket to Rabada, taking his average to a mere 12.3 with four dismissals when dancing down the wicket to pacers.
Pant’s nature of cricket is like a double-edged sword, either you live by it or die by it.
His style has its cons, but has its pros as well. The one thing that stands in his support even after a dismal outing in the second Test is, most of the time, his aggressive intent has landed India in a better position.
The Sydney Test in 2021 where India were chasing 407 in the fourth innings, when every other batsman had the mindset of drawing the Test, Pant came out all guns blazing and scored 97. While others were circumspect of the ball turning from the rough, Pant had no qualms in dancing down the wicket and hitting Nathan Lyon against the spin. Till he was at the crease, India had the chance of making history.
His aggressive nature is one of the reasons why India were able to breach fortress Gabba (Brisbane). Set up by Shubman Gill’s 91, India needed 161 runs to win when Pant came into bat. The rest was history. He then took everyone by surprise once more in a month’s time by reverse ramping James Anderson. But it was after he had batted for a while and was well set.
Everyone in the cricketing fraternity agrees to the fact that Pant’s positivity and aggression often land India in a comfortable position. But, as the head coach Rahul Dravid, said in the post-match conference of the second Test: “We know Rishabh plays positively and he plays in a particular manner and that has got him a little bit of success, but yeah, of course, there are times when we’re going to have some level of conversations with him around, just a little bit maybe about the selection of the time to play that shot.”
His Test career has gone through a lot of ups and downs. Starting off with a bang in 2018, he continued his good run in 2019 when he scored 217 runs at an average of 72.3. After having a lean three-match patch in 2020, Pant had a blast to start the year 2021.
In his first six matches of 2021, Pant had scored 515 runs in 10 innings at an average of 64.7 with four fifties and one century. However, things have gone south since the start of the WTC Final in June 2021. Since 18th June 2021, the start of the WTC Final, in 13 innings, Pant has averaged 19.2 with just one fifty to his name.
“He is really a positive player, he’s someone who can change the course of a game very quickly for us. So, naturally, we won’t take that away from him and ask him to become something very different. Sometimes it’s just about figuring out what is the right time to maybe attack or maybe play out a slightly difficult period that sets up the game," despite his failures in recent times, the coach has backed him and hopes he continues to play positively.