"No matter who the bowler is, if it's there to be smacked, smack it. Who knows, you might win more matches than people expect you to"Shastri's advice for Pant
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If Rishabh Pant wants to get the best out of himself as a batter and help Delhi Capitals in the remainder of this IPL, then he needs to bat in the Andre Russell "mode" without thinking too much . That is the simple suggestion of former India head coach Ravi Shastri, who also believes that Pant can become a matchwinner if Capitals use him at No. 3.
"I feel once he gets the tempo going he shouldn't change, he should be in the [Andre] Russell mould in this format of the game," Shastri said on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out. "You get your eye in, you're striking it well - don't think too much. No matter who the bowler is, if it's there to be smacked, smack it. Who knows, you might win more matches than people expect you to."
It's been an indifferent campaign for Pant, much like Capitals, who are four points behind the top four, having registered five wins and six losses in 11 games so far. Pant has reached at least 20 in eight of his ten innings in the campaign, but hasn't converted any of those knocks into fifties.
Shastri believes the clarity of mindset that sets Russell apart as one of the most destructive batters in the shortest format will serve Pant well.
"Russell is very, very clear in his mindset. It is bang-bang-bang once he's in the mood. There's no stopping him, there's not even a negative thought that will peep through his system - it is [all about] smacking. Rishabh is totally capable of playing in that fashion, and I hope he thinks in that way because you'll see some special innings from him in T20 cricket."
Those special knocks in his early years are what set Pant apart as a batter with a tremendously high ceiling: he smashed 1172 runs from 30 innings in IPL 2018 and 2019, averaging over 45 and striking at nearly 170 (average 45.07, SR 168.88) - with nine 50-plus scores.
Since taking over as Capitals' skipper in 2021, though, Pant has had two middling campaigns in varying capacities. Last season, visibly bogged down in his approach, he finished with a strike rate below 130; this year, he's striking at more than 150, but failing to kick on and deliver match-winning efforts. Shastri doesn't think Pant needs to temper his approach. "He's getting off to starts and then getting out in a manner which he wouldn't like, but I don't think he should change his tempo."
It's a sentiment shared by former New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori.
"Rishabh Pant is almost at his best when he's reckless, and we've seen him play some exceptional innings when he just continues to take teams down time and time again," Vettori said on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out following Capitals' latest defeat - a 91-run thrashing in pursuit of Chennai Super Kings' 208 at DY Patil Stadium on Sunday.
That was the fifth time out of seven attempts where Capitals lost chasing - with targets in the range of 172 to 223 in those defeats - and Pant's scores in those games read 43(29), 34(17), 44(24), 44(30), 21(11). While some of these matches demanded a hell-for-leather approach, there were a few where the equation appeared to be in Capitals' grasp - against Gujarat Titans in Pune, they needed 54 off 36 (chasing 172) when Pant fell, and went on to lose by 14 runs; when he got out versus Lucknow Super Giants, a target of 196 had boiled down to 76 needed from 43 balls, and Capitals eventually lost by six runs.
It hasn't helped that the Capitals are short on finishing prowess, with the likes of Lalit Yadav, Axar Patel and Ripal Patel often batting as high as No. 6. And probably that has prompted Pant to put a lid on his uninhibited batting approach, which remains his strength. Shastri, however, said that Pant should understand the burden is not all his to finish the job.
"It's a team game, you don't expect an individual to go and win the game all the time. But in that short period of time, if he does the damage, there's enough damage to bring that required rate from say 12 an over to 10 an over. Then it's for the other guys to take it home."
In their remaining three matches, Capitals face a virtual must-win scenario. To get the best out of Pant which will empower the team's batting, Shastri has identified a clear route for his former ward. "I'd like to see him bat at three for Delhi Capitals, especially now when the heat is on, when they've got to win. Let him go and smack it."
Both Shastri and Vettori agreed that Pant was on the cusp of turning the corner. "He's threatened, I feel like he's threatened in every game," Vettori said. "We've had discussions around whether he's out of form and I've suggested because of his strike rate - against pace and spin, still over 150 for both facets - that he's so close to having that big performance. I think that big innings can still happen in these last three games."