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The first thought that came to Rishabh Pant immediately after his life-threatening car crash on December 30, 2022 was that his "time in this world was over." Having been "fortunate to have a second life", Pant, who is expected to play in IPL 2024, said the biggest lesson he has learned from this experience is to always have self-belief.
That was the theme of his revealing conversation with Star Sports, titled Believe: To Death and Back. Pant talked about the accident, his state of mind, the joy of watching the 2023 Ashes, and whether he will drive a car again.
"First time in my life I had that feeling of letting it go. I felt my time in this world was over," Pant said in the interview, which was conducted in Bengaluru on August 24, 2023, roughly eight months after the accident occurred when Pant was driving from Delhi to Roorkee to meet his family and crashed his car into the median divider on the road. "It was the first time I had such a feeling in life. At the time of the accident, I was aware of the wounds, but I was lucky as it could have been even more serious."
After undergoing initial treatment at a hospital in Dehradun, Pant was airlifted to Mumbai where he was under the care of the BCCI's specialist consultant. After undergoing surgeries to reconstruct all three ligaments in his right knee, Pant did his rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.
"I am focusing on recovery cut off from the world," he said. "It helps me in recovering fast, especially when the injury is so serious. For recovery, you have to do the same thing every day. It's boring, it's irritating, it's frustrating, but you have to do it.
"Till the time I start playing cricket, I don't want to plan much for the future. I asked the doctor how long it would take for me to recover. I told him that everybody is speaking different things, but you will give me the most clarity about it. He said it would take 16 to 18 months. I told the doctor that whatever timeline he gave me, I would reduce six months from it."
Pant said he was alive because of Rajat Kumar and Nishu Kumar, who pulled Pant out of his SUV before it went up in flames. In a social-media post last January, Pant said he was "forever grateful and indebted" to them.
Recounting details of those initial moments after the car crash, Pant said his right knee had dislocated - turning 90 degrees to the right as he was lying face down. "There was someone around so I asked if he could help getting the leg back in the position. He helped the knee get back in place."
He was in excruciating pain and later realised how lucky he was to emerge from the accident without losing his leg. "If there was any nerve damage, there was a possibility of amputation. That is when I felt scared."
Jovial and chirpy by nature, Pant didn't miss out on making a light-hearted comment. "I had taken an SUV, but what I was seeing was a sedan."
Puneet Solanki, Pant's friend-cum-manager, was one of the first to reach the hospital after the accident along with the player's mother and sister. Solanki recounted Pant's first words. "Immediately after the first surgery, one of his eyes was open. He asked me to come closer. He then whispered in my ear: 'Please take the pads off my legs and hold these gloves'."
Pant remembers that moment. He was heavily sedated because of the anaesthesia. "I remember saying 'take the pads off quickly, my leg has become really heavy'." There was nothing Pant's family and friends could do. Solanki's biggest and most immediate fear was: would Pant ever play again?
Pant said he was bedridden for about a month. He was itching to stand up and walk around and do normal things. Last February, on social media, he posted a picture of him taking his first steps since the accident. "I wanted to update all the people who had prayed for my recovery and health."
Brushing his teeth, taking baths and doing things that we do robotically in daily life became exciting for Pant as he started regaining fitness and starting to move around, albeit very slowly.
"I didn't think I would ever enjoy brushing my teeth. The first time I took a bath, I didn't feel like coming out. These small things gave me joy because I'm fortunate to have a second life. Not everyone is fortunate enough to get it.
A sight for the sore eyes: Rishabh Pant back in the nets•PTI
"Doctors also said that there was no fracture after the accident. Yes, my knee injury was major, but this could have been so big, that none of us can know. They always tell me I am lucky. Of course, it was such a horrific accident, the individual feels bad that this happened to me. How can I be lucky? But the other side is that despite the crash, I was alive."
Around August last year, Pant started picking up the bat, putting on the keeping gloves, and thinking about cricket. Delhi Capitals, the IPL franchise he is the captain of, posted a picture of him batting as part of the country's Independence Day celebrations. Pant admits he couldn't "resist" the temptation to bat. Those in authority, possibly the BCCI medical staff, scolded him. He didn't mind.
Barring the 2023 Ashes, Pant resisted watching cricket. He was spotted in Capitals' change room last IPL, watching their home matches in Delhi. "Itna maza nahin aaya [I didn't enjoy that much]," Pant said. "I was thinking we could do things this way or that way. I was discussing some things with them [Capitals' think tank]. But since I was outside, it was different. When you are inside, you control certain things."
Delhi Capitals' coach Ricky Ponting having a chat with Rishabh Pant on the sidelines of IPL 2023•Delhi Capitals
Pant realised he was getting "stressed", so he cut down on watching the IPL. But he followed the 2022-23 Ashes, which he said was fun. "Because England have started playing in a certain fashion, something I am used to [playing]. Rohit bhai says we will also play Rishball. He says you play that anyway, but we will get others also to follow you."
Pant, who is 26 now, made his international debut exactly seven years ago, on February 1, 2017. His last match was the second Test of the Bangladesh series in December 2022. Since then, he has missed out on the IPL and the home ODI World Cup, apart from other bilateral series.
He does not want to think too far ahead; instead, his focus is solely on the rehab programme. But what about driving cars? "I will still drive because I love to," he said. "Just because there was a setback doesn't mean that you do not do those things ever again. Nowadays I am told, 'Yaar, don't drive bilkul [at all].' But no one was more scared than me. No one was more upset than me.
"As a human being, I want to add things to my life. Not by eliminating what I like doing. The accident is a setback. How do you overcome that? By having the belief. That belief keeps growing and at times can border on the obsessive. But if you have belief in yourself, you can achieve anything."