The world is raving about Rishabh Pant. A destroyer of the bowling attack. A player of rare abilities and reach. One who dictates once he leaves the periphery of the dressing room. His chirping from behind the stumps is finding a place among folklore. Pant is doing nothing wrong. He is the hottest property in Indian cricket as endorsements are coming Pant’s way in a big way.
Frontpage advertisements announce the arrival of a small town boy in the exacting world of metro cities. For someone who had to spend nights in a Gurdwara and a couple of times in a park to attend early trials at the Sonnet Club in Delhi, avenues are opening up big time as he announces on social media his desire to buy property in Gurgaon. This is the Pant the cricket fans have come to know in the last two years.
It was not so in 2013 when he was struggling to convince the people who matter that he was a special talent. The officials at the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) had their agenda to push and were not inclined to give him the break. Pant was not the first to run into such a challenge at the Ferozeshah Kotla. A certain Virender Sehwag and a certain Virat Kohli had both been rejected by these DDCA officials on their maiden trials.
Pant was from Roorkee and had run into a domicile issue on the eve of the Delhi under-19 team selection for the Vinoo Mankad Trophy. This was an unforeseen situation created by a certain section of the DDCA keen on pushing a favoured candidate. Pant could not be picked without the proper domicile document. In this case, it was the school leaving certificate from Roorkee. These officials were not willing to give Pant and his coach more time to secure the documents.
Former India off-spinner Nikhil Chopra, in his capacity as chairman of the selection committee, was convinced the boy deserved to be in the squad for the match against Haryana at Lahli. “But I could not have picked him without proper BCCI registration,” remembered Chopra. Pant appeared to have lost the battle since there was little time to complete the paperwork.
There was one person who was not going to give up, Davendra Sharma, the coach at Sonnet Club who had worked hard to hone Pant for the wicketkeeper’s slot in the Delhi team. “I knew he had the talent when I saw him bat at the nets. The sound of his bat hitting the ball showed this lad was special. We had discovered a diamond. More than the fury behind the shots, I was floored by his fearless approach to the batting,” recalled Sharma.
Frantic efforts were made to get the certificate from Pant’s school in Roorkee. His mother, Saroj, lost no time. She now had to dash to Delhi before 5 p.m. “I gave her the directions to reach Kotla. She had never been to Kotla,” said Sharma. Meanwhile, Chopra spoke to BCCI senior official Prof Ratnakar Shetty and took the responsibility of picking Pant and submitting the documents later as a “special case.”
Rishabh Pant with Davendra Sharma, coach at Sonnet Club.
Things were moving at a fast pace. Pant and Sharma were nervous. Saroj blundered by mistaking the Ambedkar Stadium for Kotla. “She ran to the Kotla,” remembered Sharma. The mother’s efforts for her son were rewarded as Pant’s registration with DDCA was completed in the nick of time. Chopra picked him in the Delhi squad and thus began Pant’s momentous journey.
“Obstacles were put up at every stage for Pant. Every possible stage. But we never gave up. It was Pant’s determination that saw him through. Had we missed registration that day he would have lost one year. Who knows what would have happened after one year. There was tremendous competition,” said Sharma, who gives credit to Saroj for that brilliant effort – bus to Delhi, landing up at the wrong stadium, and making a dash to the right venue just in time to save a crucial year for her son.
‘Destined for greatness’
“It is important to give the break at the right time. In Pant’s case, it was the ideal stage in his career. They opposed his selection to the Ranji Trophy squad too later but we stood by him. He too did not let us down,” said Chopra.
As for Pant, he has not forgotten those difficult days. Sharma also keeps his ward on his toes. “You can’t get complacent. Pant is destined for greatness in this game. He is Indian cricket’s pride,” said Sharma. It was Sharma who honed Pant’s skills and ensured he remained committed.
“Youngsters taste early success and go astray. But I am glad Pant has kept his feet on the ground.”
Sharma is happy with his student’s attitude to life and cricket.