One young man who is making all the right noises though is the very talented Rishabh Pant. In the recent Test series vs Australia Down Under, Pant showed just how big an impact he can make with the bat, even in foreign conditions. So much so, that he pushed regular Test wicket-keeper batsman Wriddhiman Saha to the sidelines.
His exploits with the bat saw him make a comeback to the Indian T20 team as well. He was not part of the T20I series vs the Aussies, where KL Rahul was the designated first choice keeper, with Sanju Samson as the back-up.
The squad that was announced for the T20Is vs England though saw Pant being picked as the first choice wicket-keeper batsman.
Rishabh Pant (AFP Photo)
His talent with the bat was never in question, even though he did lack patience and sometimes threw away his wicket. That seems to be changing with time. He has begun putting a bigger price on his wicket. His keeping skills, something he was almost constantly criticised for are also getting better with time.
The BCCI, selectors and team management all backed Pant to the hilt, because he is a true game changer and match winner. He was dropped when he didn’t perform or when they felt he needed to mature more, but the support remained.
Pant played a big role in India’s 2018 Border Gavaskar trophy triumph where he scored 350 runs in 4 matches at an average of 58.33. There was a certain sense of responsibility that had seeped in. He wasn’t seen throwing his wicket away. In the Sydney Test, if Cheteshwar Pujara was patiently keeping the Australian attack at bay, Pant was seen accelerating India’s run-rate. He scored an unbeaten 159 off 189 balls, an innings studded with 15 fours and a six.
He continued his love affair with the Australians when India toured Australia recently. That tour saw a more mature Pant come out to bat. Questions about his keeping abilities though were still asked from time to time.
After the low of the Adelaide Test, Pant was brought into the playing XI in place of Saha. He missed out on a century in the third Test, scoring 97 runs off 118 balls, the highest by an Indian batsman in the match.
In the fourth Test in Brisbane, Pant scored an unbeaten 89 runs off 138 balls to help India get to the target of 328 and clinch an unforgettable 3 wicket win and another series win on Australian soil. He looked up to the heavens and celebrated the win without any over the top celebrations. He was also adjudged the Man of the match.
After the Australia series win, Pant was given another challenge – the Test series vs England at home. This was a clear indication that the team management was no longer looking at Pant as a wicket-keeper-batsman option only in foreign conditions. And the 23-year-old grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He signed off the four-Test campaign as India’s second-highest run-getter, behind Rohit Sharma. He scored 270 runs in 4 Tests at an average of 54.00, including 1 century and 2 fifties.
Baby steps are being taken to gradually try and step into Dhoni’s shoes. But it’s still too early to make any comparisons whatsoever.
MS Dhoni and Rishabh Pant (AFP Photo)
Former England captain and batting legend David Gower praised Pant, saying the 23 year old has ‘extreme confidence’.
“Pant has impressed me. He has extreme confidence. He was superb. He is full of confidence at the moment because things are going his way. What he does, he has obviously been an extraordinary talent. He’s aggressive. The simplest example is the one of him reverse sweeping Jimmy Anderson off the new bowl in Ahmedabad. He has super confidence which is working very well for him at the moment. In Australia, he was under immense pressure and was able to deliver. And, that was a match-winning knock in Brisbane.” Gower told TimesofIndia.com in an exclusive interview.
Needless to say, Pant’s heroics in Australia went a long way in convincing people that he was ready to be India’s first choice keeper batsman in the longest format. Some even felt that if needed he could be played as a specialist batsman.
“A lot of people in India before that Australian tour weren’t sure he was the right man for that post. I think now, they’re much more convinced, and he’s getting better at keeping,” Gower further said.
The former England captain also rightly cautioned against comparing Pant with Dhoni just yet.
“I think, Dhoni was an enormous figure in Indian cricket and world cricket. He just stands alone because of it. Pant has a chance to become something very special. But I don’t think he should be compared to a big figure like Dhoni. If I was his coach or involved with him, I would mention the name Dhoni too. I wouldn’t be sort of tempting him with – ‘you can be as good as or better than MS Dhoni’. I will just say – ‘look, you are very good at what you do, just beat yourself’. It’d be a good question in 15 years’ time and discuss Pant’s comparison with Dhoni. He’s having fun playing. So, don’t spoil the fun and just let him play. Let him do what he does,” Gower told TimesofIndia.com.
In the last 12 months, Pant has played 7 Tests and scored 544 runs at an astonishing average of 60.44. He is the second-highest run-getter in the designated wicket-keeper list in Tests overall, behind England’s Jos Buttler (601 runs in 9 Tests).
After an impressive 2019 season where Pant scored 217 runs in 3 Tests, averaging 72.33, the 23-year-old has begun 2021 with a bang. He has so far scored 515 runs in 6 Tests at an average of 64.37.
Legendary batsman Gundappa Viswanath meanwhile echoed Gower’s sentiments, saying that Pant should be given more time to prove his credentials and shouldn’t be compared to Dhoni just yet.
“Dhoni’s shoes are too big to get in there. Let’s give Pant some more time. What Dhoni has done for Indian cricket, he shouldn’t be compared to anyone in the world. Be it batting or wicket-keeping, what a tremendous career Dhoni had. He has a lot of respect among cricketers, former cricketers, and fans as well,” Viswanath told TimesofIndia.com.
“Pant is too young and he is proving himself as he is going forward. He is learning. He is there to stay but has to work a lot more and harder. He is a talented cricketer. Everything (that is) happening is good for him now, but let’s not forget it’s hard work that makes you perfect. His wicket-keeping and batting is improving day by day. I am sure he will do well. The more he will spend time at the nets and work hard, the more he will become solid in batting and keeping,” Viswanath further said.
Overall in his four year old international career so far, Pant has played 20 Tests, 16 ODIs and 31 T20Is, scoring 1358, 374 and 482 runs in those formats respectively.
While the jury will be out for a while on whether Pant can someday be called Dhoni’s true successor, across formats, some see shades of another former wicket-keeper batsman, who took the world of cricket by storm with his batting exploits, in Pant.
Rishabh Pant (Getty Images)
‘Not Dhoni, he is more Gilchrist’ – that’s what former England cricketer Ryan Sidebottom, who played 22 Tests, 25 ODIs and 18 T20Is, feels while watching Pant bat.
“Being a left-hander, he is more a Gilchrist type of player. Not Dhoni. He is quite chirpy. He is the sort of player who gets the team going. He gets under the skin of the batsman. And that’s what you want from your keeper. He’s also matured as a cricketer. He’s got criticism, but he’s come back stronger. He’s one of those players who comes out and can sort of change the game within one session and all of a sudden. He can take the game away from the opposition. And he did that against England. He’s been very watchful. He’s been attacking and is attacking in nature,” Sidebottom told TimesofIndia.com.
Pant might have already played 20 Tests, 16 ODIs and 31 T20Is, but he is only 23 years old. Five years ago, in 2016, he was playing the ICC u-19 World Cup. He made his international debut just a year after that tournament, where Indi were the runners-up.
The road to becoming Dhoni’s true successor is a long one, but there’s no doubt that Rishabh Pant, as of now, is firmly walking down that road.
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