There is a story of a young kid going to Delhi every weekend, a six-hour bus journey from Roorkee to Delhi so that he could get the best training. With some home-made Parathas, he would happily travel in the bus, with his mother, and grind hard at the Sonnet Cricket Club under coach Tarak Sinha.
Not once, not twice, not thrice, I must have read this masterpiece of an interview by Indian Express’ Sriram Veera 100 times, and the genuineness that comes from it was infectious. It was the rawness of a guy who wanted to reach the moon, and for sure, wanted to be India’s man on the moon. And all through his own ability and steadfast success. “Mujhe kisi ka ehsaan nahi lena tha. (I didn’t want to seek favours). I didn’t want anyone to say, they did this and that for me. So my mother would go and see them in the day and go to Gurudwara. She used to do seva there – serving food and doing other things. Punya milta hai – blessings and good wishes.”
This was a 20-year-old talking. By then, he was already a superstar, one of the finest young cricketers going around in world cricket, and a boy who was touted to be one of India’s future skippers. However, only in a Utopian world, the path to glory fills with bouquets sans the bricks. For Pant, the roller-coaster is real and one of the frightening aspects of his “promising career” - one that has been derailed and questioned by many pundits and fans alike.
Be it his affinity to play one shot too many or failing to capitalise on starts, the wicket-keeper is only to be blamed for the position that he has found himself in. After MS Dhoni’s sudden vanish post the World Cup semi-final exit, the Delhite has played all seven ODIs and all but one T20I that India have played, yet the returns have been nothing but disappointing. The Mumbai debacle is a classic example of how his core instinct has been compromised to a drastic extent which invariably has had a domino effect on his batting structure. Watching him in this state of mind reminds me of KL Rahul's situation in England and Australia Test series of 2018 when the Karnataka opener looked completely out of touch and out of mind.
The excuse of being a young cricket player wouldn’t warrant a long run, considering the lines have been blurred in the last few years with the emergence of a bunch of talented cricketers, of which Pant is a leading superstar. He has got enough chances to be judged upon and let’s not kid-glove here - he has hardly done a thing to not be called out. Not only his mental weaknesses but his technical frailties have also been exposed big-time in the process.
His downswing has been a cause of concern for the major part of his cricketing career; it is from where the wicket-keeper has exaggerated movement of the bat and arms, invariably throwing the weight of the body behind the ball. His failure to sync the downswing with the incoming delivery gives the impression of being a little late on the ball - a trait that made Yuvraj Singh suffer towards the back end of his career. Instead of working on his shortcoming, he tried to “defend” his way to play a “mature” innings and the result is there for everyone to see.
In Mumbai, when Kane Richardson ran at him with a bouncer written all over his face, Pant was already on the front foot trying to work the ball on the off-side. When Pat Cummins was bowling full-length deliveries, Pant was adjusting his leg, inevitably being caught off guard. It added to his frame of mind as India lost the plot to end up with a mediocre score in Mumbai.
Would a rest work as it did for Rahul? Theoretically saying, it might allow Pant to have a fresh understanding of his own batting and how to get it back in order. And most importantly, a break might help him get rid of the mental demons that a cricketer finds himself when under the cosh. But for Pant, it is not a straightforward shoot-out of the facts and theories, as the curse of MS Dhoni’s colossal presence in the Indian cricket for over 15 years has seen the column of wicket-keepers being dry and empty. Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan have done well, but to leapfrog Pant, you need a truckload of runs and amazing keeping skills because peppering one crack on the wall by just adding a layer of soil is not the best idea out there.
It will take a lot of courage for Virat Kohli and the Indian team management to give him that break, because, hey, let’s admit it for real, Samson’s domestic returns are not that great enough to warrant a spot in the ODI side. Ishan Kishan lacks the temperament and Dinesh Karthik has been jettisoned after a long failed experiment in ODIs. The question is - Can KL Rahul turn himself into the other illustrious Rahul from his home state for the team’s needs? Well, in understanding the conundrum lies KL's greatest contribution to this absolutely fantastic but 100% messed up Indian team.