It is a special feat indeed when someone breaks a record that stood for almost three decades. However, it becomes even more special when a 19-year old player taking his first strides at the big stage rewrites the history books to scribble down his name for the time that lie ahead.
On Tuesday, it was 19-year old Rishabh Pant who broke a 28-year old record as he scored the fastest ever hundred by an Indian in first-class cricket in just 48 balls against Jharkhand in a Ranji Trophy match. It turned out to be just another feather in his cap in this already successful season for him in which he has scored 799 runs in 7 matches averaging a staggering 133.16 with the bat and that too at a strike rate of 113.17. Scores of 146, 308, 24, 9, 60, 117 and 135 speak immensely about his consistency and maturity at this young age. Pant’s story may sound like an overnight success story when reading from this Ranji season. However, his journey building up to this grueling tournament wasn’t as easy as it looks right now.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for Pant throughout the year! He burst onto the scene with some sensational performances for India in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year. The left hander’s big hitting prowess and stellar performances which included the fastest fifty in the tournament caught the eye of the IPL franchises and the youngster was grabbed up in the IPL Auctions by the Delhi Daredevils for a mammoth figure of 1.9 crores INR. And to make the day even more special Pant celebrated it with a century guiding India to the Semi-Finals of the U-19 World Cup. That was not the end of his good times as Pant delivered on the promise playing a couple of match-winning knocks and bagging a Man of the Match award for the Delhi Daredevils in IPL 2016.
It looked like a dream start to his career and Pant could only get better from there. However, he was overlooked for India A’s tour of Australia a couple of months back despite the promise that he had shown and it could have demotivated him in his journey ahead. But, here he is now; scoring tons of runs for Delhi in what is his second Ranji Trophy season. India’s premier batsman and present Test captain Virat Kohli has often said that he uses the setbacks in his path to fuel himself for better performances in the opportunities lying ahead. He is a role model for the modern generation and Pant seems to be following the same path as well. “I was hurt after not being picked for India A’s tour of Australia. I then promised myself that I should be scoring so much runs that no one can ignore me,” Pant had told PTI after his fabulous triple hundred against Maharashtra last month.
He has used that little setback in his path as his motivation to perform well and he is reaping the rewards of his hard work now. If observed closely, one can see shades of Adam Gilchrist in Pant’s batting style. His hard hitting abilities, superb hand-eye co-ordination, and equal ease while playing against both pacers and spinners remind us of that legendary Australian keeper-batsman. The consistency and maturity that he is showing now are also way beyond that of his age. Talking about his wicket-keeping abilities, Pant is quite neat with his glovework behind the stumps. Although he has a quite stocky figure now, he can improve his movements behind the stumps by working on his fitness. And as he goes on gaining experience, playing on different pitches in different countries and conditions he will just get better and better with his glove-work. The thing that matters is the time period for which he can keep his good form going. For, there are other young and promising names vying for that keeper-batsman position in the Indian squad as soon as MS Dhoni and Wriddhiman Saha retire from Limited overs format and Tests respectively.
Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan are two of the most promising names besides Pant on the domestic circuit at present. Pant, who had been ignored till now in giving him a bite at the big stage at this young age, will now fight shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Samson and Kishan. With the Indian selectors looking forward to building a team for the future, it’s almost certain that they won’t go for other wicket-keeping options like Dinesh Karthik as Dhoni retires. Although Wriddhiman Saha has stamped his authority in Tests for that keeper-batsman position, the selectors won’t like a man of his age to be a part of the limited overs
There is no doubt that Rishabh Pant is the rising star of Indian cricket. With a major portion of Ranji season still to go, he will look to score as many runs as possible so that it becomes impossible for him to be invisible to the selectors. If he can keep his good form going then he will get a chance in the India A team soon which might just make it easier for him to pave his way into the Indian squad within the next couple of years as soon as Dhoni and Saha retire. With legends like Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh making their way into the Indian squad on the back of breakthrough domestic seasons at a young age a decade back, it can definitely be said that Rishabh Pant is following the same footsteps and is the next big thing in Indian Cricket.
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