It’s Not Easy Being Rishabh Pant
Rishabh Pant is constantly compared to MS Dhoni, despite him being at the start of his career and Dhoni, at the end.
Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal opened India’s innings on the first day of the first Test against South Africa.
Rishabh Pant has been making headlines on a daily basis.
Everyone has an opinion on his technique and temperament – sometimes he is too attacking for people’s liking and sometimes he is accused of changing his natural game to fulfil the expectations of critics. In this day and age of social media he is getting new advice every minute (if he starts reading all his alerts!).
Not many young cricketers have created so much debate so early in their careers.
There is, therefore, a need to take a step back and remember that caught in the middle of this media storm is a young 22-year-old boy who has every right to ask why his place in the team is forever being questioned and why he isn't being given any breathing space to figure out his game himself.
First and foremost, as has happened with many cricketers in the past, we are obsessed with finding a past hero in a current player.
After the retirement of the great Sunil Gavaskar, every opener had to fit in his mould. Since Kapil Dev's retirement, every all-rounder has to be like him, or better. Hardik Pandya had to answer this question so many times. And now Rishabh Pant is going through the same process. He is simply expected to be as good as MS Dhoni.
Comparing him with Dhoni is easy, but what people forget is greatness isn't achieved overnight. It takes almost a decade to make yourself an example for others to follow. Isn't it unfair to compare Pant, who has just started his journey in international cricket, and expect him to have the same maturity and understanding of the game that Dhoni must have obtained in 17 years of top-level cricket.
The most significant criticism of Rishabh Pant is his shot selection with critics often pointing out that he can't curb his natural attacking style of cricket to address the situation at hand.
Here, it's very easily forgotten that the grooming of a young cricketer has changed completely. Modern young players are the product of their time. Batting is all about instincts and instincts are developed with years of training in the nets. Young players are trained to play hard, and aggressive cricket and virtues of patience are learned with time. Gone are those days when the only foundation of batting was solid defence and technique.
The current generation is nurtured to play their shots, and Pant is no different.
The Laxmans and Dravids had to find the fifth gear in their batting while the current generation has to grapple with driving the car in first gear when needed. It's not that the approach can't is changed, but as Bishan Bedi would say, "it takes a minimum five years to be an overnight success."
Everyone knows that Pant is an extraordinary cricketer who can do wonders. Talent isn't the issue, the issue is the processing of this talent.
Every match, every innings, every situation, every dismissal will be teaching him something new about his game. He, along with the team management and his captain, would be working overtime to find the right balance of caution and aggression to take his game to the next level. Obviously, the biggest challenge for a player like him will be to find that point where he can change gears in his batting without altering his natural game.
Players like Pant can be an enigma. They will either enthral you or frustrate you. Some days their lightning batting can entertain you, and some days you will feel that was stupid. But just like Pant, cricket fans have to travel this distance with him, patiently.
For Indian cricket's sake and Pant's sake, he should be given some space and time to figure out his path. He may not be Dhoni but has the potential to be a star with his own identity and name.
(Nishant Arora is an award-winning cricket journalist, and most recently, the media manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He also co-authored the best-selling book on Yuvraj Singh’s battle with cancer.)
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