'Don't think too much, just keep hitting'
Rishabh Pant's unfettered approach to ball-striking has constantly been likened to that of fellow Delhi resident Virender Sehwag. On Thursday night, Pant's breathless, yet artful decimation of Gujarat Lions with a 43-ball 97, including nine sixes, moved Sehwag to hail his "special ability" on Twitter.
Had Sehwag watched Pant's media interactions following Delhi Daredevils' chase of 209 with 15 balls to spare, he would likely have smiled at how the 19-year-old channelled his inner Sehwag with straight-faced one-liners.
The most revealing insight into Pant's batting philosophy was provided by Sanju Samson, who made 61 off 31 balls, during their post-match interview with Daredevils mentor Rahul Dravid on iplt20.com. During the course of their 143-run partnership off 63 balls for the second wicket, Samson had struck two sixes in an over and was looking to play safe. Pant, however, didn't approve of the tactic.
"I started the innings really well. After hitting two sixes [in an over], I thought about taking a single," Samson told Dravid."He [Pant] came to me and told me: 'Bhaiyya, zyaada socho mat, bas maarte raho (brother, don't think too much, just keep hittting)'. I think that really helped me to go on. I really enjoyed batting with him."
Pant walked the talk. Two balls after Karun Nair was dismissed, he whacked Basil Thampi over cover for six. He similarly avenged Samson's departure by smacking Ravindra Jadeja's next two deliveries for six and four. He blitzed his way to a half-century off 27 balls and his next 44 came off 16 deliveries.
"I will see the ball - if the ball is there to hit, I will hit it," Pant said of his mind-set. "I was not thinking I will get out or something like that. If the ball is bad, you have to punish it. That's what I am doing."
When Dravid asked Pant which bowlers he and Samson targeted, the answer was a variation of the see-ball, hit-ball theme. "We were not thinking about the next ball," Pant said. "Like I told you, sir, if we get a bad ball … we planned everything like that. I told Sanju bhai [to keep hitting the balls that were there to be hit] - [he] was planning a few things at the start - but when he started getting in the middle, he told me 'I will go for everything.'"
Even when Pant was three short of his hundred, he didn't hold back. An attempted slog into the leg side off Thampi only resulted in a thick outside edge to the keeper. Pant had to drag himself back to the dugout, but he later said he wasn't thinking about the hundred.
"I was just thinking about chasing down the total as quickly as I can," he said. For good measure, he topped it off with a philosophical nugget right out of the Sehwag school. "If I would have got three runs, I would have finished the match. If I would have finished the match, I would have got three runs."
It was an attitude that gladdened Dravid. "What was impressive for me was Rishabh - batting on 97 and not thinking about his 100 at that stage and still going for his shots," he said. "[He was] not worrying about the 100 and [was] looking to get the team home. Incredible innings from the two boys and truly well-deserved."
Dravid, however, raised the bar for Pant and Samson. "I am a hard taskmaster [and] I hope that you guys will next time finish the job and stay not out."