With aggression backfiring, India opt for sensible Rishabh punt
MOHALI: The first India-South Africa T20I was washed out in Dharamsala. But an interview Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli gave to the broadcaster that day made it amply clear as to on whom all eyes will be focussed on Wednesday: Rishabh Pant.
Shastri didn’t mince his words when he pointed out the keeper-batsman’s first-ball dismissals in the limited-over contests against West Indies. “He tries to repeat it a couple of times and gets out. He will be told. There will be a rap on the knuckles there, talent or no talent. That’s because you are letting the team down, forget letting yourself down.”
Ahead of the second T20I at IS Bindra Stadium, batting coach Vikram Rathour also had to field his share of questions on the Delhi player. And most queries stemmed from the fact that Pant is one among the few who despite playing in all formats is yet to make a solid case for himself. It wasn’t surprising that Pant was one of the first to hit the nets since the team’s arrival in Mohali.
While admitting that the 21-year-old is a mercurial talent and needs freedom to bloom, Rathour also said that discipline and decision-making are important traits that also need to be imbibed. “We want him to play his shots. He is an impact player. But he needs to be disciplined and think about the game-plan. There is a fine line between fearless and careless cricket.”
Pant’s batting statistics don’t make for a pretty picture. After his IPL heroics in 2017 and his initial glory days with the national team, it was taken as an absolute certainty that he will be a star in at least the shortest format. But in 17 T20I innings, he has not hit double digits in 10. He averages just 21.57. Heck, even his strike rate dips from 161.03 to 124.27 when IPL and domestic T20s are not considered.
India’s third ODI against West Indies is a good example — even Shastri referenced the match in that interview — of where Pant’s decision-making is going wrong. With his skipper looking more set with every ball at the opposite end, Pant had to just keep the score ticking to see the match through. But, the southpaw instead went for a lofted shot off his very first ball. The next man in, Shreyas Iyer, did what the situation demanded and his No 4 stocks rose.
Pant’s shot-selection has continued to let him down on the international stage. He often goes for high-risk options; a trade-off between spectacular runs and horrible dismissals. That’s a far cry from his skipper’s approach.
“Decision-making is very important in today’s cricket,” remarked Rathour. “At times, we overemphasise on technique. It is more about the mindset at this level. What the team management is asking from them is fearless cricket, having clear game-plans and playing with intent. But at the same time, you can’t be careless. I am sure they are smart enough to understand that.”
Goes without saying that a player who has been on India’s blueprint for the future for three years is definitely smart. It’s time for Pant to go out there and prove his detractors wrong.
His daredevilry with the bat was what cemented his place in the India side, but Rishabh Pant has been falling on his own sword in recent times. A look at where things have gone wrong for Pant the batsman, in the recent past...
Designated as No 4, Pant’s approach in the T20Is against Windies was anything but the build-to-a-crescendo stratagem the role requires. A first-ball blob courtesy a rash shot when India needed consolidation (32/2). Another single-digit outing ended by an attempted ramp. An unbeaten fifty in the third clash helped him salvage this leg of the tour.
Both ends of spectrum
The ODIs that followed saw Pant operate in two extremes: hit out or buckle down. In the second, Pant completely curbed his aggression. But that came with no emphasis on rotation of strike, despite a set Kohli at the other end. A dozen dot balls later, he was back in the dugout, ruing another loose release shot. Compensating in the third, Pant decided to go out all guns blazing. Yet another golden blob.
Pant’s last six Limited-over innings: 0 (1), 20 (35), 65* (42), 4(5), 0 (1), 32 (56)