As the calls for Rishabh Pant taking over the glove work of the Indian Cricket team has started growing louder, let’s look at the things that Delhi Capitals have done right that Indian team management didn’t, to unleash a different version of Pant that is both consistent and brutal at the same time.
After Rishabh Pant was bought by Delhi Daredevils before IPL 2016 for 1.9 crores, he did show us few explosive innings we were waiting for, with a 69 against Gujarat Lions in only his third match and following it up an unbeaten 39 against Sunrisers Hyderabad, eventually, ending his first season with 198 runs in 10 matches. His second season was akin to his first season, having again scored scintillating 97 against Gujarat Lions, amassing 366 runs in 14 matches.
But the best of Pant was yet to be seen as he finally found his footing in the IPL 2018, where he amassed 684 runs in 14 matches with a strike rate of 173.60. Coming onto the crease to bat, he looked possessed and poised to take the bowlers to the cleaners from the very first ball, hitting 37 sixes and 68 fours in just the one season. Even T20 veterans would struggle to have such a destructive season, much less expect such a feat from a young Pant. Bowlers did try to find the method behind the madness but were instead sent over the ropes during their search.
There was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind since the kid from Delhi started showing his skills for the Indian Under-19 team, dispatching bowlers all the ground with a special skill set, destined to make it big on the international level. This belief was aided by Rishabh Pant with a mind-boggling 308 in the Ranji Trophy 2016-17 season against Maharashtra, before he followed it up with the fastest century in the premier domestic tournament, scoring the hundred in just 48 balls, which made him a name on the selector’s lips. However, the question still was, could he do it for the Indian team?
Such performances forced the selectors to deem a 19-year-old Pant worthy of the iconic ‘blue jersey.’ Eventually, he did get his debut cap in the third T20I against England in 2017, but his performances for the national team raised doubts over his ability to survive at the highest level. In his third-last T20I game, he was bowled by Kieron Pollard, who bowls mediocre at best, on 0 as he tried to slog it to deep mid-wicket, adding to his string of inconsistent scores. In the following series, he did play two matches but got only 1 ball to face, and thankfully managed to survive it. However, despite his heroics in the IPL, he was massively underperforming in the blue jersey, making everyone question his place in the team. Later, he was dropped from the team, having scored just 210 runs in 28 matches and the fairytale that people had in mind for Pant, came somewhat to an abrupt pause.
Meanwhile, there were structural changes in Delhi Daredevils as it was transformed into Delhi Capitals with Shreyas Iyer taking over the reins, with Ricky Ponting along with Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Kaif taking over the coaching and mentorship roles. The changes turned out quite good for the franchise as they reached the knockouts for the first time in seven years and one of the main contributors to the success was Pant, who scored 488 runs with a strike rate of 162.66. His stats were more or less similar to that of last season, but the major difference was his confidence as he seemed clear about his plans and role. He didn’t get out playing loose shots, which he continued to do for the Indian team. The only thing more dangerous than an in-form explosive batsman is an in-form ‘sensible’ explosive batsman, which Pant seemed to know in the IPL but forgot when playing for the nation.
In this season again, he has looked nothing like his Indian team cameos, playing aggressive cricket with sensibility included, scoring 171 runs in 5 matches, which shows how much he has progressed. He was particularly tested in the game against RCB, where he wasn’t getting balls in his slot but Pant held his nerves, gave the strike to Marcus Stoinis, who was hitting well, and didn’t throw his wicket like he would have done if he was playing for India. He waited for the bowlers to make mistakes which they eventually did and propelled DC innings to 196 with a 25-ball 37. This reflected the stark difference between Pant’s approach to IPL and the Indian T20 team, which is aptly explained by Delhi’s assistant coach, Mohammad Kaif. Kaif pointed out that at Delhi, Pant has the clarity of mind which he does not get while playing for the Indian team.
“Rishabh Pant is a free-flowing player. You have to set his batting position, that he will bat at this position and he will get this many overs to play. He needs to be clear in his head that he will get this many overs so that he is not thinking whether he needs to take singles, or if he needs to defend. He is an attacking batsman, he should start hitting attacking shots from the first ball” Kaif told Aakash Chopra in his YouTube show ‘Aakashvani’.
“So, at Delhi Capitals, me, Dada and Ricky Ponting discussed a few times that whether to send Pant at no. 3 or no. 4. But later we decided that Pant should get at least 60 balls to play. It doesn’t matter which position he is batting at, he needs to get the final 10 overs. This thing has not yet been decided by the Indian team,” Kaif concluded.
“He sometimes bats in the 15th over in a 50-over match. A finisher or an attacking batsman should be given the same role. The Indian team has not been able to figure out Pant’s batting slot right now. But in IPL, we have figured it out. This is why he has played great in IPL because he plays with free-flow cricket.”
Seeing his performances, now there have been increasing calls from various players to bring in Pant as the replacement of Dhoni, but the thing that we are forgetting is, Pant has always performed well for Delhi but has failed to be consistent at the highest level. The failure could be attributed to Pant’s irresponsibleness, but if Kaif is to be believed, then Pant should be handled better by the national team management and use the template that Delhi uses for him.
Because the Pant that plays for Delhi Capitals can easily get a spot in any of the world’s best teams but the Pant that plays for India wouldn’t even make it to Delhi’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy squad. But as it stands, people learn from their mistakes and it looks like the southpaw has learnt from his mistakes and is now ready to turn the screws on, as not the next MS Dhoni but as the first Rishabh ‘sensible’ Pant.