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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2021 Test batting winner: Rishabh Pant holds back and holds out

The wicketkeeper-batter stared down a full-strength Australia attack to steer India to a famous victory

India had never won at the Gabba. No visiting team had won at the Gabba in the previous 31 attempts. And by the time this Gabba Test rolled around, India were so beset by injury that their XI included five players who made their debuts on this tour.
Somehow, this India didn't just compete at the Gabba, but beat a full-strength Australia, and chased down 328 to do so. This most improbable result was every inch a team display, but half an hour from tea on the final day, after T Natarajan, Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, Mohammed Siraj, Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara had all done the bulk of their respective bits, India were still 161 runs from victory, with seven wickets in hand and an estimated 43.1 overs remaining.
In, at this point, walked Pant. He had scored a fourth-innings 97 in the previous Test match, at the SCG, but had left the job of saving the game unfinished and in the hands of his injured team-mates. Sydney was the sort of innings everyone knew Pant could play. Brisbane was the innings they hoped he could play. Sydney was a thrilling, edge-of-the-seat counterattack punctuated by flashes of fortune. Brisbane was, for the most part, cool and calculated.
Given his ability and the match situation, Australia had sweepers back even during the early part of Pant's innings in Brisbane, and he took the singles and twos that were on offer, needing to find the boundary only three times during his passage into the 30s.
With exactly 100 needed, Australia found a way through the obdurate Pujara with the second new ball, and the contest changed tone. Australia attacked with their lengths, and Pant hurried towards his fifty with a pair of off-side drives off Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
Then, with eight overs left and 50 to get, came a manic passage of play, as Washington and Pant found the boundary four times in the space of five balls. This included the moment that best captured Pant's impish, autodidactic shrewdness, when he fell onto his backside while scooping Nathan Lyon over his shoulder.
India were on top, and Pant ensured they remained there, even as Australia made two more late, frantic breakthroughs. With 19 balls left to play, Pant drilled Hazlewood down the ground, between the bowler and wide mid-off, and what may well have been cricket's greatest turnaround was complete.

Key moment

Pant was on 16 off 40 balls when Lyon brought mid-on up and invited him to go over that fielder with a loopy delivery outside off stump. Pant stepped out, took on the shot, and missed, but he survived the stumping chance, with Lyon's turn and bounce going on to beat Tim Paine as well.
Lyon frequently got the ball to turn and jump out of the rough outside off stump, and Pant - this chance aside - adopted a highly selective approach against the offspinner, leaving frequently and waiting for balls pitched within his hitting arc to take on with his sweeps and lofted hits.

The numbers

22 Balls Pant left alone against Lyon, out of 70. It was his most frequent response to the offspinner.
62.40 Pant's average in Australia, the best of any wicketkeeper who has batted at least ten times in the country
27 Innings taken by Pant to reach 1000 Test runs; he became the quickest Indian wicketkeeper to do so.

What they said

"He came with a lot of baggage. It showed in his size. And he had to lose that baggage, which he did. He worked his backside off to lose it. And I tell you, he has trained harder than anyone in the last two months. And the results are not just for him to see, it's for the world to see."
- Ravi Shastri, India coach
"I will say this again: the most impressive part, for me, about Rishabh this time was the way he held himself back when it was needed in the last Test."
Cheteshwar Pujara

The closest contenders

Kyle Mayers
210 not out vs Bangladesh, first Test, Chattogram

No team had ever chased 395 to win a Test match in Asia, no debutant had ever scored a fourth-innings double-hundred. But Mayers defied a trio of canny spinners on a wearing pitch to lead West Indies to a most unexpected victory. There were a couple of moments of fortune but Mayers' innings was masterful in every other way, characterised by a languid ruthlessness whenever the spinners erred even marginally in length.
Joe Root
228 vs Sri Lanka, first Test, Galle

Root came in at 17 for 2 and proceeded to almost singlehandedly carry England to a thumping first-innings lead, scampering along at a strike rate of 71.02 thanks to his incredible range of sweeps, which encompassed a broad arc from wide long-on to fine leg. Root's innings dominated both the opposition and the scorecard - England's next-best score was Dan Lawrence's 73, and only two others got into double figures.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo