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Hungry Pant yearns for bigger, better performances

The 19-year-old Delhi batsman walked out to bat on an empty stomach and ended up feasting on Jharkhand's attack on a flat track with a 48-ball hundred

Arun Venugopal
Rishab Pant plays a cut, Delhi v Karnataka, Ranji Trophy 2016-17, Group B, Kolkata, 1st day, October 20, 2016

Rishabh Pant defends his aggressive natural style of play: "When you express yourself, it doesn't mean you are not playing responsibly"  •  PTI

Rishabh Pant probably doesn't intend to deliver punchlines, but does them anyway, and in style. Sample this: "Limit toh kuch nahin hoti hai cricket mein, unlimited hi hota hai sab kuch. Apni limit badhaani hai" (There are no limitations in cricket. Everything is unlimited. I need to raise the limits of my performances)." The Delhi batsman said this after smashing a 48-ball century against Jharkhand in Thumba to add to his hundred in the first innings.
With 799 runs, including four hundreds, Pant is also the leading run-getter so far in this Ranji Trophy season. The 19-year-old, though, doesn't want to count the number of centuries he has scored. "Only performances matter - the bigger the better," he tells ESPNcricinfo. Delhi's top order responded strongly after being asked to follow on, scoring 214 for the loss of three wickets. When Pant's turn came, he walked out to bat on an empty stomach, again. "I get very little time for breakfast," he said with a laugh. "Because, every day I either have batting or wicket-keeping [drills before play]. That's the system in every match."
That, however, didn't stop Pant from creaming Jharkhand's bowlers for 135 in 67 balls, with 78 runs coming in sixes. Pant was surprised to learn his 21 sixes in the match was the second-most in a first-class game. "Bas lag raha tha ki 'yaar ache se khelna padega, aise kya gande tareeke se khelta hai (I felt I wasn't batting properly and that I had to play better, that's all). I had got an opportunity to bat again; that hasn't happened in the most of our matches," Pant, who has batted in only seven innings from five games, says.
Jharkhand left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, who is Pant's Delhi Daredevils team-mate in the IPL, was at the receiving end of some "unbelievable" strokes. "There was some rough and we were trying to land there, but he would step out and easily hit sixes off even those deliveries that were out of his reach," Nadeem says. "In the first innings, he was batting on 99, and when Sunny Gupta, the offspinner, was bowling, he hit him against the spin over midwicket. That was a pretty huge six."
According to Nadeem, bowling to Pant was particularly difficult given how flat the pitch was. "There are the Virender Sehwag-types who believe in their strokes right from the start rather than taking singles. Pant belongs to that category," he says. "There were fielders on the boundary line, but he was still clearing them easily."
For his part, Pant said when the shot is timed well, it doesn't matter if the ground is small or big. Coach KP Bhaskar had called for better shot-selection from Pant after Delhi's 160-run loss to Karnataka, but according to Pant, Bhaskar has asked him to back his natural game. He believes playing his natural game and batting responsibly aren't mutually exclusive. "When you express yourself, it doesn't mean you are not playing responsibly," he said. "People generally think that when someone plays attacking cricket, he doesn't bat responsibly. But, if you don't play responsibly, there is only one outcome: you get out."
Does Pant think he could have scored the hundred in fewer deliveries? "Of course. I had reached 96 in around 42 or 43 deliveries. But then, they were bowling outside off, and I couldn't force myself to go after those deliveries," he says, and throws in another punchline for good measure: "Cricket mein kuch bhi sakta hai, sochne waali koi baat hi nahin hai. (Anything can happen in cricket)."

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun