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Analysis

Why did Rishabh Pant play that shot?

His moment of step-out-and-hope was perhaps born less of sky-high self-confidence than a lack of it

There are risks, and there are risks.
There are risks that come off, and risks that don't. On that basis, you wouldn't judge Rishabh Pant adversely for the shot that led to his downfall on Wednesday: stepping out to Kagiso Rabada, failing to reach the pitch of the ball, and edging behind as a flat-bat slap over mid-off - or extra-cover, who knows where exactly he intended to hit it - morphed into a heave across the line.
You wouldn't judge Pant adversely, because he's taken big risks in other innings, and those risks have come off. The rest has been history - literal cricketing history.
There are risks that have the odds going for them, and risks that don't. On this basis, you might ask Pant why he chose to attempt that particular shot, off that particular bowler, at that particular moment.
This was the seventh over of a fiery spell from Rabada, where he'd found his lengths, found movement and inconsistent bounce from those lengths, and dismissed Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, a pair of half-centurions. Surely Pant could have seen off that spell, and gone after someone else?
Before that shot off Rabada, moreover, this was Pant's record while stepping out of his crease against seam bowlers, according to ESPNcricinfo's data: 32 balls, 50 runs, and four dismissals. Too much risk for not a lot of reward, surely?
But then again, were the odds really in Pant's favour when he reverse-scooped James Anderson at Ahmedabad, when England had just taken the second new ball? In Anderson's previous over, he had stepped out - as he did now against Rabada - and walloped a spanking drive through mid-off. That Test match, like this one, was still in the balance when Pant played those shots. Both of them came off, and Pant was celebrated for his audacity.
Pant, though, was batting on 75 when he stepped out at Anderson in Ahmedabad. On Wednesday at the Wanderers, he was batting on 0. He had been at the crease for two balls.
During that Ahmedabad innings, it wasn't just Pant's audacity that had come in for praise. Former players in the commentary box and elsewhere had also hailed the manner in which he had constructed his innings, and his willingness to bide his time and trust his defence early on.
Perhaps that was the missing ingredient on Wednesday. Pant's moment of step-out-and-hope was perhaps born less of sky-high self-confidence than a lack of it. And this lack probably stemmed from Pant not being able to trust his defence in the same manner since that series against England in India.
Since the end of that series, Pant has played seven Tests, all away from home, and has averaged 19.23. That run of lean form has coincided with right-arm fast bowlers exposing a previously unnoticed - or unexplored - weakness in his game, going over the wicket and tormenting him with the angle across his stumps.
Over his Test career so far, Pant averages 50.28 against right-arm seamers when they've bowled from around the wicket. When they've gone over the wicket, he's averaged 20.06.
During his ongoing horror run of seven Tests, he's not been dismissed once by fast bowlers from around the wicket, but 10 times from over the wicket while averaging 11.50. Eleven. Point five zero.
And fast bowlers have cottoned on that this is the way to go. Until the end of May 2021, right-arm quicks bowled approximately 43% of their deliveries to Pant from over the wicket. Since the start of June, they've used that angle of attack 71% of the time.
Rabada, as you might expect, was bowling from over the wicket when Pant jumped at him. Could Pant have tried to see out that over, and that spell? Maybe. Did Pant trust himself to do so? Maybe not.
It's possible that Pant went away and worked on his issues against right-arm-over when he was rested for India's home Tests against New Zealand. But technical issues aren't easy to iron out. Even if you find a solution, it might take time for that technical tweak to bed into your muscle memory.
That window of rest Pant had, meanwhile, was both brief and rare. Rest has always been a rare commodity for a multi-format cricketer; it has been rarer still for a multi-format India player in the times of Covid-19. Any run of poor form is likely to be long-drawn in these circumstances. Just ask Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. And Virat Kohli.
So was Pant's shot off Rabada a reasonable option that didn't come off, or was it simply ill-judged? We can't say for sure, but rather than treat the shot as an isolated moment, it might help to view it in context.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo