Need to Calm Down and Give Rishabh Pant Some Breathing Space
Let him play without burden and you’ll see what all the ‘Pant-sized’ dynamo can conquer.
Rishabh Pant is no stranger to throwing his wicket away. He'll carve out a couple of sixes and then out of nowhere, play a rash shot to gift his wicket away. This tendency of his has been well-known and well-documented but was further highlighted in West Indies, when on a couple of occasions, he played outrageous shots on the first ball and walked back to the pavilion to frowning fans.
An average of 22 from 12 ODIs and that of 20 from 19 T20Is is a tale of missed opportunities. And these are figures despite a couple of interspersed match-winning knocks.
What hasn't helped is that both head coach Ravi Shastri and newly-appointed batting coach Vikram Rathour have pointed at Rishabh Pant's careless approach as an area which has a vast scope of improvement.
The Latest Blip
Hence, coming into the second T20I against South Africa, Pant was under tremendous pressure to align his game to the "careful" style of play, which does not come naturally to him. The result was that when he got a drag-down, down the leg side from South African spinner Bjorn Fortuin, he was in two minds, whether to go for the heave-ho or just tuck it around for a single and accompany captain Virat Kohli, batting marvelously at the other end, to take India over the line.
It was this moment of indecision that caused him to play a half shot and the ball went straight into the hands of short fine leg fielder. A wry smile cropped up on the left-hander's face. He once looked at the skipper and then stared into the distance, cursing his fate. He walked off the field, shaking his head.
Now, even the best of batsmen have made tons of mistakes early in their international career. This, in fact, is an essential part of the learning curve. However, what has not gone down well with the Indian team management and the fans is how often Pant has given in to the capriciousness of his style of play.
Combating the Mahi Army
What further fuels passion among the Indian fans is that quite literally, Pant is keeping MS Dhoni out of the team. In the eyes of the Indian fans, had Pant not been in the picture, their beloved Mahi would have got a green light to continue until the 2020 T20 World Cup, which currently seems a distant possibility.
So, every time Pant fails, there are more and more posts on social media by the army of Mahi fans in order to somehow, by miracle, pull back MSD in the scheme of things for the upcoming T20 World Cup.
Team Management Not Helping Matters
The Indian team management here is to be blamed as much as Pant. Accepted, that it is their responsibility to be in his ears when he gets out by playing irresponsible shots but that should stay within the dressing room. Statements in the press by the support staff only add to the drama and can get on the nerves of a flamboyant cricketer, who we often forget is still quite young and trying hard to find his feet at the top level.
Ravi Shastri has maintained all along that no one intends to change Pant's style of play but with statements like "rap on the knuckles, talent or no talent" and "fearless but not careless" can well lead him to do exactly that and ensue indecisiveness, fatal for his style of play.
Kohli, on this count, has been very sensible and has backed the youngster. "He's still young. I made many errors when I was young in my career and he will learn. He will look back and think yes, he could have chosen a different option in that situation and he realises that already," the skipper came to Pant's defence for his poor shot selection after India's defeat in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.
Leave the Guy Alone for a Few Matches
Pant, you can't emphasise enough, comes from the Virender Sehwag school of thought, which is to see the ball and hit the ball. Trying to complicate his mindset and egging him on to be extra cautious will only take things southwards.
Even the critics will agree that Rishabh Pant is a once-in-a-decade talent. An impact player, who can change the course of the match, all by himself. How many players like him have India unearthed in this century? Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are the only names that one can think of.
So, India, we need to value the guy and give him his due time.
With fearless cricket, there will come a couple of occasions when the ball, that was intended to fly over the ropes, would be skied up and caught. It will then come across as a short of a "careless" man with little responsibility. But, bear in mind, a big reward has bigger risk attached to it. The Delhi batsman deserves a few more opportunities, a consistent run, to play as he pleases, in his own positive and unique style.
If he doesn't auto-correct himself within, say 10 matches, the Indian team management then will have the licence to go down a bit harder on him. But until then, leave the guy alone! He is just 21. For God's sake, let him play without burden and you'll see what all the 'Pant-sized' dynamo can conquer.
(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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