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'People are going to be scared of bowling to Pant in the future'

The current Ranji season is proving to be a breakout one for Delhi's Rishabh Pant, who is aiming to make it big for his mentor, Tarak Sinha

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
"I don't change my style of play just because the format changes"  •  PTI

"I don't change my style of play just because the format changes"  •  PTI

He has a first-class triple-hundred to his name. His IPL 2016 contract was worth Rs 1.9 crore (approximately US$277,000). He has scored one of the fastest first-class centuries by an Indian. He is only 19.
Rishabh Pant, born in Roorkee in the hilly north Indian state of Uttarakhand, rose to prominence at the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh earlier this year, with two innings in particular: an 18-ball half-century against Nepal, and a blistering century in the quarter-final against Namibia.
Pant has grabbed attention this Ranji Trophy season in much the same way. In October, he scored a belligerent 308 off 326 balls against Maharashtra, and then added his name to the record books with a 48-ball hundred against Jharkhand, one of the fastest first-class centuries by an Indian.
Currently, Pant is the leading run scorer this Ranji season after six matches: 874 runs from nine innings, with four centuries and a stellar average of 97. The figure that jumps out is the number of sixes - 47. His captain from the Under-19 World Cup, Jharkhand batsman Ishan Kishan, is next with almost half - 25.


Aggression comes naturally to Pant with the bat in hand. It also contradicts the philosophy of his coach, Tarak Sinha.
"I prefer one-day cricket but my sir [Sinha] doesn't consider anyone an international player until he plays a Test," Pant told ESPNcricinfo in Mumbai, during the match against Maharashtra at Wankhede Stadium. "For sir, I have to play Test cricket. I also want to play Tests. In our club, only Test players are called 'country' players by sir."
Sinha is undoubtedly old school, and Sonnet Cricket Club in Delhi, which he founded, has produced about a dozen India players, including Shikhar Dhawan and Aakash Chopra. Ustaadji, as Sinha is popularly known, has always been traditional at heart. The generation to which Pant belongs may have been brought up on T20, but Sinha has always placed a premium on the skills necessary for Test cricket. That does not mean he has curbed Pant's attacking instincts.
"I don't change my style of play just because the format changes," Pant said. "If I get a ball to hit, then I go after it and if it's a ball to be left, I leave it. The field is usually spread out in one-days, and in first-class, it's usually kept up, so there are more scoring opportunities. There are plenty of gaps in first-class - you only have to pick the right balls."
Pant began his season with 146 off 124 balls against Assam. His 308 came in the next match, and made him the fourth youngest to score a first-class triple-century. Then came the match against Karnataka, where he scored 24 and 9.
Following that game, Delhi coach KP Bhaskar, also a Sonnet alumnus, flagged the dangers of using the same attacking approach in every game. "You can't play the same pattern on every pitch," he said "Sometimes the situation demands where you need to be a little choosy."
Two matches later, Pant blasted that 48-ball century in the first innings against Jharkhand, and 135 at a strike rate of 201 in the second innings. In all, he hit 21 sixes in the match. Despite his coaches' cautionary words, he has followed his instincts. "If I play two maidens and then hit a couple of sixes, then my strike rate is nearly 100," Pant said. "Like against Maharashtra, they started bowling negative lines outside the leg stump to me, so I didn't score. When I got the chance, I sometimes scored 10 or 15 in an over."


Pant's technique is not solid yet, but he derives his strength from good hand-eye coordination and the brute power of his bat swing. "When I saw him in our camp in Palam (Delhi), we used to create match scenarios," Pravin Amre, Delhi Daredevils' assistant coach, recalled. "There he would achieve his targets effortlessly. His bat swing is very good and the power with which he hits is eye-catching. Rishabh did very well in our practice games and we had planned then to use him properly in the IPL."
Amre believes Pant can settle into first-class cricket without compromising on his attacking play, if he learns to focus for longer. "The biggest benefit he gives his [Ranji] team is that if you want an outright win in four days, he helps them score 300-400 quickly and gives them more time," Amre said. "If you play 90 overs in a day and score 200-250 only, it's not enough for an outright win. But if you score 400-450, it's so different. Which is what he does. It may be that sometimes he looks awkward while getting out, but when it's his day, he is a game-changer."
When Daredevils' director of cricket and primary scout TA Sekhar was looking for emerging talent in 2015, he heard people in Delhi talk of how hard Pant could hit the ball. Sekhar saw that ability first-hand during a few Ranji Trophy matches last year. "Then I watched him in the Under-19 World Cup and realised, very rarely you can come across people who can hit the ball so hard among the Indians."


Pant walks out to bat with his collar up. Off the field, he speaks in a matter-of-fact fashion. He describes his state of mind at all times with one word: confidence.
Five days after the Nepal match in the U-19 World Cup, he struck a brisk century against Namibia to take India into the semi-finals. It was a memorable day for another reason too. In the IPL auction, Daredevils signed him at nearly 20 times his base price, of Rs 10 lakhs, outbidding Rising Pune Supergiants, Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore.
"When the quarter-final got over, we were all making fun of each other," Pant recounted. "'Tu 50 mein bik gaya, tu 60 mein bik gaya' [You were sold for 50 lakh, you were sold for 60]. The team manager told me Delhi bought me for 1.9 crores. Maine kaha, 'Sir mazaak mat karo, sahi batao. Sir ne kaha, 'Sahi mein.' [I asked him not to pull my leg, but he said I had actually been bought for that much.] Then I believed him."
In his sixth match for Daredevils, Pant faced Bangladesh left-arm fast bowler Mustafizur Rahman, who had already made an impact, in his maiden IPL, playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad. The second ball Pant faced from the left-armer was that offcutter, which has foxed several international batsmen. Pant smacked it over long-on. Sunrisers captain David Warner's eyes widened as he appreciatively watched the ball sail over the boundary.
A couple of deliveries later, Pant used his supple wrists to whip a low, dipping full toss to the midwicket boundary. He took 26 runs off 13 balls from Mustafizur in that match, the most a batsman has scored against him in a T20.
"His fearless hitting [stands out], he doesn't care who is at the other end to bowl," Amre says. "He clears the ground very easily. People are going to be scared of bowling to him in the future."
Though elated by the news from the auction, Pant was unsure about whether he would get opportunities in a set-up, considering there were three other wicketkeepers - Quinton de Kock, Sanju Samson and Sam Billings. "I was worried about not getting enough chances, so Rahul [Dravid] sir [Daredevils' mentor] sat with me one night and explained: 'There's no need to get worried, you will get a chance. But we don't want it to look like you are not ready for the big stage when you play. So make the most of the chances you get.' That felt really good, my tension reduced and I was picked from the fourth match and then did decently."
In his first IPL season Pant scored 198 runs at an average of 24.75 and strike rate of 130.26 in ten matches. Batting at various positions - from opening the innings to No. 8 - also boosted his confidence. He is at home in the middle order, though, and all four Ranji Trophy centuries this season have come at No. 5.


Flamboyant as he is on the field, Pant has not been carried away with the big money. His indulgences are those of any teenager. He is happy to spend money on perfume, and has bought a car for himself and one for his parents. Otherwise, his focus remains cricket.
Pant does not want to disappoint Sinha, who took him under his wing at Sonnet and became his primary caretaker when the batsman moved to Delhi at the age of 12.
"Initially my technique was horrible. He had said that if I learned the basics of the game, I would score very well. It wasn't happening instantly because once I made these changes, I couldn't score properly. He was only teaching me the basics, without which you cannot play. Like driving off the front foot; I didn't know until then how to drive. If I had not come to Sonnet Club, then I don't know where I would have been right now."
Pant did well under Sinha's tutelage, making his Ranji Trophy debut before he turned 18. In the last year and a half, he has moved swiftly from being an unknown to a contender for the India wicketkeeper's job, which was thrown open when Wriddhiman Saha was declared unfit for the Mohali Test.
Pant knows international cricket is the real deal. "My aim will not change, I want to play for India. Blue jersey ka alag mazaa hai [The blue jersey has a different feel to it]," he says while recalling the Under-19 days. "You feel confident on your own after wearing that."

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo