Just as the smog has relented and the air quality in Delhi has come down to being just "very poor" from "severe" levels, flights landing and taking off from the domestic terminal of the Delhi airport had a new threat. In the adjoining Airforce Sports Complex in Palam, Rishabh Pant was announcing return to form with big sixes. Aircrafts fly so low here that it seemed he could have hit them had he gone a little bigger.
Pant joined Nitish Rana - whose big-hitting capabilities were seen with Mumbai Indians - at 55 for 3 but his 110-ball 99 and Rana's unbeaten hundred took Delhi to 260 for 4 on a weather-hit day. Only 62 overs were possible, but the two left-hand batsmen deflated a buoyant Maharashtra side that had taken out Gautam Gambhir in the fifth over and the other opener Anuj Rawat in the 10th. Unmukt Chand, himself struggling to recreate the form that made him a star at the Under-19 level, was dropped.
There could be a lesson for Chand in the way Pant has taken in stride the lean period. Not long ago Pant was seen as the man putting incredible pressure on MS Dhoni to retain his place in India's T20 internationals side. He had rattled off a 326-ball 308 in the last Ranji Trophy, then two hundreds at better than a run a ball in the same first-class match, followed by a 43-ball 97 in the IPL for a faltering Delhi Daredevils, but that was all in the last season.
Pant got the reward through selection in two T20 internationals for India. In the first one, he didn't get a chance to do much, and in the second he managed to go barely a run a ball in a high-scoring defeat for India. He still would have got a longer run for India had he done well in the A tour of South Africa, according to the selectors. He didn't grab that chance either, is out of the India squads now, and has spent more than a year without a century in any senior representative cricket.
The 99 in a tough situation will bring Pant back into the conversation. He was asked if he felt relief that he was back among the runs. "There was no pressure, so why will I feel relieved?" Pant shot back. "This is cricket. You have good days, you have bad days. You can't afford to put yourself under too much pressure and risk ruining your future games too. There will be days when you will score runs, there will be days when you won't. This is a part of a cricketer's life."
It is remarkable to have managed to attain that kind of equanimity this early in a career, but Pant said the seniors have helped him in this regard. "You get to learn from seniors," he said. "Whatever time I spent in the Indian team, I learnt. Here, too, there is Gauti bhaiya [Gambhir, who has first-hand experience of insecurities as a young cricketer] and Ishant bhaiya [Ishant Sharma, who is now the Delhi captain]. There is no minimum age to learn these things. The sooner you learn, the sooner you will grow as a cricketer."
A good example of similar effort reaping "good" and "bad" days is how Pant was dropped in the 30s. It is luck he might have earned. In this lean period, he has been out backing up when a straight drive kissed the bowler's hand and strangled down the leg side on more than one occasion. That is why, Pant said, he has not looked to change his game. "The game that has got you runs, if you stick to it, you give yourself the best chance to keep scoring runs," he said. "Rather than running after changes, stay positive and back your game. I used to feel bad that I was not actually putting the runs on the board, but there was no special pattern to my dismissals, which might make me change my game."