Rishabh Pant: Out in 90s again but not nervous

Devendra Sharma, an assistant coach at West Delhi’s Sonnet Cricket Club, has seen Rishabh Pant evolve from a chubby teenager from Roorkee to one of world cricket’s most exciting talents. After Day 3 in Chennai, he had mixed feelings. Pant had once again rescued India but for the fourth time, was out in the 90s. Sharma was delighted that his ward was now being seen as the team’s reliable crisis manager but the shot that got him out left him concerned.

“That shot was not on. The ball (by off-spinner Dom Bess) was released much slower and wider. It hit the rough spot and turned a bit more. I think he (Pant) should have controlled his urges and looked to rotate strike and bring up his century,” Sharma tells The Indian Express.

The other talking point around the day’s most-discussed stroke was the direction that Pant intended to give it. Unlike his previous five sixes, the last stroke of his innings was aimed towards the off-side. The miscued lofted shot, meant to clear the long-off fence, landed in the hands of deep cover instead. That wicket put England in firm control of proceedings.

Memories from Down Under

Pant’s dismissal in Chennai brought back memories of his exit in the fourth innings of the Sydney Test – when he was out for 97 – while slicing a widish delivery from Nathan Lyon. Even there, the Australian off-spinner kept luring him to play that inside-out shot over cover with that line outside off-stump.

Sharma too mentions the Sydney shot. “I have seen him play that shot on numerous occasions in white-ball cricket. After the Sydney Test, I had asked him why he played that shot, and his response was: ‘marne ki koshish kar raha tha’ (I was trying to hit). I think he will learn from these mistakes,” he explains.

Aggressive ploy

But before he got out, Pant, in Pujara’s company, had taken India from 73/4 to 192/4. During his 88-ball 91, Pant negated the threat posed by left-arm spinner Jack Leach. With the rough outside the left-handed Pant growing in size, Leach would have been tough to play if the Indian wicketkeeper had not targeted him.

Pant’s ustaad and Sonet CC’s grand old coach Tarak Sinha was proud of the tactics used by his student. “He didn’t allow the spinner (Leach) to settle into a rhythm. There were footmarks outside Pant’s off-stump. Because he kept using his feet to the spinner, he couldn’t exploit the rough marks,” says Sinha, who recalls the tough time the young wicket-keeper had to face early last year.

Regaining confidence

Not finding a place in India’s white-ball squad and an average IPL had resulted in Pant’s swagger going missing. Those big hits that he merrily unfurled had deserted him. Pant’s career was at a crossroads. Help came from Sinha and Sharma.

“He was depressed when he came to me last year before lockdown. He was not a regular in the Indian team, and struggling to connect the big hits because he had lost his bat swing,” Sinha noted.

Sinha and Sharma arranged for open nets at the Venkateshwara College where Pant was encouraged to complete the full swing of the bat. “He had developed a habit of playing a half-hearted check shot due to which he was getting caught in the deep. I asked him to back himself and complete his bat swing. The hard work finally begun to show results during the Australia tour,” Sinha concluded.

The confidence and the big hits are back. Now, if only Pant can show a bit more discretion, he can be the match-winner that India always wanted in the middle order since MS Dhoni’s retirement.

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