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India v South Africa: Why Rishabh Pant is key to India’s T20 fortunes

Rishabh Pant- a dasher, an aggressor, a crowd puller and maybe the next-gen superstar- is not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination, but his license-to-thrill approach accompanied by flamboyance has shown that the Delhi batter has it in him to excel, and own the international level.

When batting in his element, Pant is capable of enthralling the audience with his risk-full batting, and cricket pundits have been overawed by his ability to win India games from the position of no hope or last long enough to ensure a draw or even wage a lone battle to keep you in the game.

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Despite being a naturally attacking player, who can be accused of going overboard with it at times, Rishabh Pant has reserved his best at the Test match level. The young gun has been tremendous with the bat over the last couple of seasons. Pant was not a certainty in the Indian Test team despite a solid start to his career in whites. However, it all changed after replacing Wriddhiman Saha in the XI following the infamous Adelaide Test in which India were bundled out for 36.

Rishabh Pant’s 97 nearly changed the Sydney Test which India managed to draw, while his 89 not out at Brisbane helped them breach the Gabba fortress and win the series Down Under. Then, to top it up, he hit a hundred under pressure against England in Ahmedabad to clinch India a spot in the World Test Championship final.

Since making his comeback to the Test playing XI in December 2020, Pant has scored 1,106 runs at 42.53 in what is essentially a bowling era. He is the only Indian wicketkeeper to score Test centuries in England and Australia and is currently the seventh-ranked batsman in Test cricket.

However, the same flamboyance, or as many say, inability to bat patiently has, time and again, made pundits question Rishabh Pant’s role as MS Dhoni’s replacement in the Indian team. He didn’t score many runs in this season of the IPL but his strike rate of 151 cannot be dismissed. Pant crossed the 20-run mark in more than eight innings but failed to convert any of those knocks into the fifties.

Earlier this year, India head coach Rahul Dravid had also hinted at having a conversation with Pant over the timing of his shots after the tourists had lost the second Test in South Africa.

“We know Rishabh plays positively and he plays in a particular manner and has got him a little bit of success. But of course, there are times when we are going to have to have some sort of level of conversation around that. “it is just a little bit or maybe a selection of the time to play that (shot),” Dravid said.

“No one is going to ever tell Rishabh (Pant) not to be a positive player or not to be an aggressive player but sometimes it is just the question of picking and choosing the time to do that,” Dravid said when specifically asked whether he was upset with Pant’s shot.

Dravid, himself a veteran of 164 Tests, also said that Rishabh was someone who can change the course of the game very quickly.

“I think it’s, you have just come in, maybe giving yourself a little more time might be a little bit more advisable but look I mean in the end we know what we are getting with Rishabh. He is a really positive player, he is someone who can change the course of the game very quickly for us, so naturally won’t take that away from him and ask him to become something very different.

Pant has shown in the past that he can bat according to the demands of the team and the requirements of a match situation. His slowest Test 50 (105) at The Oval last September, and fastest, off 28 balls, in Bengaluru in March, were tailored to the match situation, and both were key to India winning.

But he has lacked the consistency to do so on more occasions. On the other hand, his India teammate KL Rahul has shown himself to be a player who prefers to bat longer, deep into the game, than to score runs quickly by taking a few risks and Pant probably needs to take a leaf out of his vice-captain’s cricket book.

Former chief selector MSK Prasad’s honest assessment of the Roorki-born batter that “Rishabh Pant is a champion player in the making and even he is not fully aware of the kind of potential he has” holds true to the core as there is no dearth of talent or skill when it comes to Pant. It’s just his inability to apply himself in the middle, rather than looking to break the shackles all the time, which he needs to work upon.

With the ICC T20 World Cup just months away, India and the fans will hope their No.1 wicketkeeper puts his best foot forward and plays more mature and responsible knocks while being in his element. The Rohit Sharma-led side needs the flashy Rishabh Pant to make it count at the biggest showpiece event of the T20 format.

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