When BCCI announced the T20I squad that would travel to Australia for the series Down Under, it had a glaring omission - Rishabh Pant, the man who was touted as MS Dhoni’s possible heir, who now cannot even find a place for himself. But sorrily, he has no one but himself to blame!
“Every artist was first an amateur,” and every wicket keeper too was an amateur in a country where cricketing talents could be found in leaps and bounds. But often, the talented ones break the barrier and knock the door far ahead of the others, who have bent their back, for the promise that they show. In short, Rishabh Pant, circa 2017, when he started showing signs of what he had in store for India, plying his trade for then Delhi Daredevils.
While the Delhi outfit might have been sombre back then but they still had the Daredevillous character in Pant, who knew how to smack the leather of a cricket ball. He came swinging and most times out of the others, he swung it far away long and mighty into the stands. None really could fathom how he was striking them. Such was the talent in the 21-year-old Pant, who stood between MS Dhoni and the new-age for Indian wicket keepers.
He had a power-hitting that resembled Dhoni, he had a temperament that was dangling on the same line and his talent was unparalleled to. But his Indian stint, as we all know, was quite a strange one, where talent couldn’t quite meet fate and fans couldn’t quite believe his talent. It was in the very same sentence, they wanted him in and out, creating a rift like none other in modern cricket. So when the southpaw walked out to bat against Kings XI Punjab in the first game of the 2020 IPL season, it was a strange sight - he wasn’t quite middling the ball, scoring a 29-ball 31 on a very wicked pitch.
It was a very indifferent sight but one that impressed the likes of Brian Lara, who praised the southpaw for shaping himself in a radical overnight change or as he termed being a ‘responsible’ batsman. In his former years, Pant’s slashes earned him the critic, for not being able to capitalise on the situation. In the second game, while he did score a 25-ball 37, the ball wasn’t quite getting hit from the middle of the bat, which set the pattern for the season.
In 2020, Pant averages 30.9 with the bat, which is quite impressive but at a strike-rate of 116.8, which isn’t quite himself or even close to the power-hitting abilities that he had managed to put on for a show. This Pant 2.0, one which the BCCI overlooked, has been a peculiar one - he doesn't quite fit the mould of a run-accumulator, as he has no fifties this season, nor does he fit in the category of power-hitters, with a strike-rate of 116.8. Just last year, the Delhi wicketkeeper had both a significantly better average and a strike-rate.
Unfortunately, for the left-hander, this is his joint-worst season in IPL, with a dot-ball percentage of 36.8%, one that he had in the 2016 season, where he was still finding his foot in the IPL. But in 2020, neither has he found his foot nor has he looked like he is going to find it. In short, a position that Pant has never faced before in his life. Even an inconsistent Sanju Samson has found a place in the shortest format squad for the Indian team, all on the back of his power-hitting abilities.
Granted Samson has hit the sixes in Sharjah, Pant should not complain about that, with him getting equal opportunities in the same venue, where he couldn’t leave a mark. The 24-year-old’s shape and size has not always been the best but this season, it has led to injuries and an indifferent year behind the sticks. He isn’t the quickest to a catch nor is he to a run-out, he quite can’t find himself at the right place at the right time. They say that cricketing shots are built on the back of muscle memory but for the left-hander, somewhere, it has all gone missing - the bat isn’t meeting the ball at a place and pace it should, leading to the humongous amount of mistimed shots and dot balls.
The Indian squad already has its fair share of run accumulators, that they didn’t even need an in-form Suryakumar Yadav to make it to the picture. If that squad couldn’t quite find a place for the most wanted cricketer in the IPL, then Pant would have been the biggest fool to mould his playing style and change it in such a way that he adds himself to the list of competitors. He might have scored 21 boundaries and smashed six sixes but at the same time, his competitors have long left him a message, which states ‘good morning.’ Samson has hit 23 sixes, Rahul 20 sixes, Ishan 20 sixes for Mumbai and an out-of-form Karthik, who averages 13.45, has four sixes. Outside that, retired MS Dhoni has seven sixes but Pant has just six.
So that’s quite a long queue in front of Pant, all of whom are miles better if not in terms of wicketkeeping but in terms of clearing the boundaries, and only two of them have made it to the Indian squad. In hindsight, the left-handed Delhi wicketkeeper might even find himself as the fourth best-keeper in the country but his batting needs to stock up big time.
BCCI are absolutely right in terms of selection, Pant didn't deserve to be picked for India this season, with him turning out to be nothing but a batsman living on hype, not fulfilling even an iota of his potential. And a Pant with an average of 31 will not always find a place in the Indian team but a Pant with 35 sixes and an average of 27 will always find his way! More than India, right now, Delhi needs that firing Pant, for otherwise, their play-off spot might be in danger even before we all realise.