Pant shows he can be a bestseller - in three balls
Rishabh Pant offered glimpses of the promise and hype that has been built around him, with audacity and sparkling strokeplay
Rishabh Pant can be a bestseller. He showed why in three balls during India's match against Bangladesh in the 2019 World Cup.
The match was at an inflexion point of sorts after 38 overs. India were 237 for 2, both Virat Kohli and Pant having crossed 20 and poised to take charge. Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza sensed this, and immediately got his best bowler, Mustafizur Rahman, for a second spell.
With Bangladesh's World Cup 2019 hopes contingent on victory, Mustafizur took out Kohli and Hardik Pandya in the space of three deliveries, and bowled a wicket-maiden. With India 237 for 4 now, Bangladesh would have felt they had snatched momentum back.
But they had not got past Pant. He now faced Mohammad Saifuddin, who, too, was coming back for his second spell.
First ball, dot. Saifudin pitched the second delivery in the slot, on the fourth-stump line. Pant lunged into a cover drive that raced past extra cover for four. Next ball, Pant rocked back to deposit a failed cutter over short midwicket for another four. That became three in a row after Pant fiercely cut a short and wide delivery to the point boundary. All the enthusiasm Mashrafe's men had built an over earlier was cruelly killed by Pant in a matter of three balls.
That is the beauty and promise Pant brings. His daring, his bold strokeplay, the gay abandon with which he bats - they make him not just a joy to watch, but also promise hope.
On Sunday, against England, on World Cup debut, Pant was keen. Too keen perhaps, as he nearly caused a run out twice in the first few deliveries he faced. At the change of overs, Rohit Sharma, his batting partner and vice-captain, almost hugged Pant to steady the 21-year-old's nerves. A little later, going for an expansive lofted pull, Pant lost his grip on the bat, and it flew high over his head, falling almost at the feet of Jos Buttler, who was standing deep.
Mind you, Pant is not all bludgeon. Ask Shakib Al Hasan, who placed the deep square leg slightly fine. Pant's prompt response was the sweep, more of the paddle variety, threading the narrow gap between the two fielders
Edgbaston chuckled in delight. Just like a full house at Trent Bridge had done nearly a year ago when Pant, in his debut Test, responded to a googly from Adil Rashid by charging him and hitting a straight six to record his first scoring shot in Test cricket.
It is impossible for those outside to understand exactly what nerves Pant would have felt in those two situations. Let us stick to the World Cup. In the last two months Pant has been on an emotional rollercoaster. Despite having a good IPL 2019, where he was instrumental in Delhi Capitals making the play-offs, Pant was not part of India's original 15-man World Cup squad.
The injury to Shikhar Dhawan allowed the Indian team management to draft in Pant, who they believed would come handy in the middle order being a left-hand batsman. But Vijay Shankar was the team's primary choice at No. 4, so Pant had to remain patient. But once a freak toe injury ruled Vijay out, Pant got his opportunity. So if he was slightly more keen as he walked in against England, it was understandable.
Against Bangladesh, Pant once again started on a nervy note. Rubel Hossain beat his outside edge the very first ball, a fuller delivery moving away. In the next over Mosaddek Hossain spun the third ball into Pant's pads and appealed for lbw. Height was the key factor and Pant survived. Two balls later, Pant charged Mosaddek for his first six. Any control that Moassadek thought he held over the batsman in the first part of the over was quickly erased.
Mind you, Pant is not all bludgeon. Ask Shakib Al Hasan, who placed the deep square leg slightly fine. He also had a short fine leg standing on the edge of the inner circle. Bowling from over the stumps, Shakib delivered from wide of the crease. Pant's prompt response was the sweep, more of the paddle variety, threading the narrow gap between the two fielders. This is the smartness that makes Pant interesting.
Shakib would end up getting Pant as a slog sweep went straight into the hands of deep square leg. Pant berated himself, hitting his pads in disgust. The intent was honest and good, but Pant realised the execution of the stroke was wrong. He should have played the sweep along the ground - that was what he imitated walking out.
Pant would have been disappointed because for the second match in a row, he had failed to dominate completely. But Pant, and India, will not lose sleep. Because in a matter of two short innings, Pant has shown glimpses of the promise and hype that has been built around him. Unlike against England, where India were under constant pressure, Pant had a glorious platform to build on against Bangladesh. There will be instructions from the team management and his senior colleagues on how he should capitalise on the advantage he creates going forward, but on Tuesday, Pant left a trace of his footprints.
In those three balls, through those three fours, Pant told his story. In his own words. It was compelling. And that is why Pant right now, is a bestseller.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo