Rishabh Pant halfway to proving Sourav Ganguly right

Rishabh Pant batting for Delhi Capitals for the first time after the accident (Image: IPL)

It was the evening after India’s shocking defeat in the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in Manchester, and we were yet to come to terms with what had transpired. India had failed to chase down 240 and the dream of winning the trophy had come to an end. The man most in the line of fire was Rishabh Pant. He had played an irresponsible shot and given it away. Rishabh, understandably, was the subject for Twitter trolls, and many called him overrated. He was considered overweight and slammed for his approach to the sport. Sitting in a Manchester restaurant that evening, Sourav Ganguly had said, “He will be your biggest match-winner in the next 10 years. Mark my words. He is blessed with the kind of talent I haven’t seen in a long time. Yes, he needs time, but he is a once-in-a-generation player.”

To be honest, I hadn’t believed him. Sourav was always fond of Rishabh and I felt he was overstating things a bit. Nearly five years down the line, one has to agree with Sourav. Two series-defining knocks in Australia, multiple hundreds in SENA countries and the pace at which he bats to help set up games – Pant has elevated himself to the status of a modern-day great. And that’s why I was not watching Delhi Capitals play Punjab Kings yesterday afternoon. I was watching Pant to reassure myself that he is well and truly back where he belongs. For Delhi, and maybe soon for India as well.

Rishabh Pant wicketkeeping for DC (Image: IPL)

And I was convinced twice. First, when he played that amazing cover drive for four. Vintage Pant. Not a fielder moved while every cricket fan across the country celebrated in delight. The second time it happened was when the Delhi bowling effort was 11.2 overs old. Kuldeep Yadav bowled it slightly wide outside off stump and Jitesh Sharma attempted a reverse sweep. For a second his foot got dragged outside the crease and Rishabh Pant was on it in a flash. The bails were whipped off and the comeback looked on song.

With Pant, it is all or nothing. There is no doubt that on some days, he will fail because of his approach to batting. He is all heart and the days he fails, he can look silly. But on days he succeeds, and his success rate in Test cricket is way more than his failures, he takes games away from the opposition.

Pant, unlike what many believe, is a thinking cricketer. He is not all slam-bang and there is always a method to his madness. After his Gabba exploits, for example, he had explained how he knew that Nathan Lyon would try to get turn from the rough on middle and off stump and that was what prompted him to dance down the track and take Lyon on. Pant was playing Lyon both on and off the pitch. He was winning the mind games and by doing so, won India the match.

It was the same against Jack Leach at Edgbaston a year later. It wasn’t rocket science that Pant would attack Leach. But the manner in which he did so was what defined the first afternoon of that final Test. He beat Leach in the mind and managed to take the game away from England. That’s what marks out Pant and will go on to define his legacy.

It is this mind that was on show during his comeback. At every point, Pant had worked things out in the mind. Made sure he was mentally there. That he believed in the comeback, and as he said in an interview to Arani Basu for the Times of India, “I had to ensure I did not pity myself.”

Pant’s comeback is proof that, in sport, you never say never. Clearly, it will go down as one of the most stunning comebacks ever. But then the second innings has just started. Now, it’s the IPL. Then, it could be the T20 World Cup in June. At the end of the year, there is a tour down under. Pant will soak in every second he is out there. Away from all the trauma, which is now past. Away from the probing questions about a possible comeback. He needs to enjoy the moment. Be in it and celebrate it. He has worked the hardest to be there. Now that he is, he just needs to make sure he plays the sport his way and enjoys the process. As captain, it could be hard but that’s where DC need to give him that comfort. He is a genuine match-winner and deserves every bit of it.


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