Very few who have followed Rishabh Pant
's career over the past few years would doubt his promise as a T20 batter. Experts marvel at his ability to hit even good balls for boundaries, and longingly wonder at the potential damage he could cause to the opposition if
he comes good.
Fans gush over the bizarre shots he plays so often: the falling-over ramps and pulls, the one-handed hoicks over cover, and the one-legged lap against Obed McCoy recently against West Indies, among others. All these shots scream T20 cricket.
And yet after a promising start to his T20 career, Pant has somehow failed to live up to expectations. Since September 2019, he has averaged a fraction over 29, and has struck at 127.39 in 78 T20 innings. In T20Is, his average drops to 24.48, while his strike rate too is no better.
Pant's T20 strike rate ranks 19th-lowest among those who have faced at least 1000 balls. There are 90 batters who have struck faster than Pant during this period.
In the same period, among those who have played at least 50 T20 innings, there are 42 batters who average at least 30 while striking at 130 or better. Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan, who are on the fringes of India's T20 side, are among those; Dinesh Karthik, whom Pant replaced in the last two matches in the Asia Cup, averages 28.80 and strikes at 141.7.
If there have been flashes of brilliance from Pant, they have been few and far between in recent years. Since September 2019, just 20 of Pant's 78 innings have come at a strike rate of 150-plus. But 15 of those have been of under 20 balls. In each of these innings, Pant has come in to bat at No. 5 or earlier.
Not surprisingly, Pant has just one Player-of-the-Match award from the 85 T20s he has played in the last three years. Only two other players have won as many - or no - awards having played more matches than Pant - Tim Seifert and Imad Wasim, who both have won one Player-of-the-Match award each from 90 and 101 matches, respectively.
It is not as if Pant has managed to improve his scoring rates whenever he has settled in. He has played 35 innings of 20 or more balls, and only five of those have come at a strike rate of 150-plus. That is just 14.3% of those 35 innings. In T20s since September 2019, 118 batters have played 20 or more innings of 20-plus balls; just five of them have had a lower percentage of innings at a 150-plus strike rate.
Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson, who are perceived to be slower are better at converting their starts, with corresponding percentage figures at 18.4% and 18.5%, respectively. In fact, Pant's strike rate in the 35 innings in which he has played 20 or more balls in just 123.50, the fourth-lowest among those 118 batters.
For all his outrageous ramps against the likes of James Anderson, and across-the-line swipes against Nathan Lyon, Pant has scored a significant share of his Test runs through proper cricketing shots. Out of the 2123 Test runs he has in the last three years, 83.1% of those have been scored playing conventional shots*. These shots have fetched him runs at a fast clip too - at a strike rate of 119.2.
Pant has got full value from these shots in Tests because there are open spaces in the field to be exploited. Sure, he has slogged across the line or ramped fast bowlers even in Tests, but those have been calculated assaults to mess with their line and lengths. Those haven't come out of frustration.
However, in T20s, bowlers and match situations have forced him to try these innovations. And the reason behind this perhaps is the fact that conventional shots haven't fetched him runs as quickly in the T20 format. While in Tests he has either had the option to go over the in field or hit through open gaps, he hasn't had that luxury in T20s.
Pant has a strike rate of 129.8 playing these shots in T20s since September 2019. Among 54 batters who have scored at least 1000 runs across IPL, PSL, BBL, CPL and T20Is between Full Members for which ESPNcricinfo has ball-by-ball data, Pant's strike rate playing these shots is the fourth lowest.
The median strike rate of these 54 batters from these shots is 140, while the median balls per boundary they hit is 5.8 when compared to Pant's 6.7. While his scoring rate with these shots is ahead of the curve in Tests, it is falling short in T20s.
However, this wasn't always the case for Pant. In the two-year period from September 2017 to August 2019 when he did well in T20s, he averaged 38.37 and had a strike rate of 166 in the format. The same shots during that period fetched him runs at a strike rate of 159.6.
But with time, bowlers figured out ways to keep him quiet since; it is a popular strategy these days to either bowl at Pant wide outside off or take the pace off, or do both.
And that is why when he has to accelerate, Pant perhaps resorts to shots like the reverse sweep he played - and got dismissed - off Shadab Khan during India's Super Four Asia Cup match against Pakistan
. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, 15.5% of the shots played by Pant in T20s in the last three years is one of these seven: slog, slog sweep, reverse sweep, reverse ramp, reverse pull, paddle and upper cut.
Among the 70 batters to have played at least 750 balls batting in the top seven across the four leagues mentioned above as well as T20Is, this percentage is the third highest played by any batter. Andre Russell and Rovman Powell are those who play these shots more frequently than Pant. And as the graphic below shows, they do it with a greater degree of success as well.
Slogging across the line has been the Achilles heel for Pant in T20s. In the last three years, Pant has got out playing the slog or the slog sweep in the IPL and T20Is - that is 40% of his 55 dismissals to bowlers. This percentage is highest among the 70 batters mentioned above. Clearly, Pant is not the best practitioner of modern T20 shots going around.
While the imageries of the unorthodox Pant may subliminally reinforce his fit to T20 cricket in our minds, he is in fact struggling to keep up with the demands of the format. The need of a left-hander in India's middle order might keep him in the side in the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, but variety can't be the only reason he finds a place in the XI. He needs to deliver on the promise too.
*include various drives, cut, pull, hook, flick, sweep and glance
Shiva Jayaraman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo @shiva_cricinfo