Your team is six-down, only a handful of runs ahead of the opposition total. The second new ball has just been taken, in the hands of someone with figures of 17-11-19-2. That someone just so happens to be a guy who started playing international cricket when you were five years old, now playing his 160th Test, with 613 wickets to boot.
Ball one: Pummelled over mid-off. Ball two: Pulverised through cover.
You can imagine the veteran seething.
Ball one of his next over: Reverse lapped over the slip cordon.
Minutes later, you find yourself on 94. Off-spinner into the attack, in an attempt to bait you.
You don’t just take the bait: you demolish it.
Audacious. Boisterous. Crazy. Delightful.
The adjectives fall short. This was Rishabh Pant’s day. This is Rishabh Pant’s world – imagined by many, doubted by more, and now being realised by the man himself.
And yet, until the last hour or so of the second day’s play in this series-deciding fourth Test between India and England at Ahmedabad, this was about as un-Pant an innings as could have been plausibly imagined.
Coming in at 80/4, with his senior middle-order colleagues dusted off, Pant made one of his slowest starts to any Test innings. He scored 12 off the first 31 balls he faced, went into the tea break on 36 off 62, and reached his 50 off 82.
This is the same guy who began this game with a Test career strike rate above 70 – which swelled further to 81 in the eight 50+ knocks so far in his Test match journey.
This is the same guy who had taken England’s lead spinner of the series, Jack Leach, to the cleaners, with 73 runs from 40 balls coming into this finale – including a series-starting carnage that had left the bowler unsure “if I wanted to play cricket again”. When Pant reached his 50, he had faced 19 deliveries from Leach – for 10 runs.
So let’s perhaps think twice before assuming he can only play a certain way.
Although – fortunate be us all to witness – that ‘way’ was just about to come into play. And how.
Three overs prior to the fateful entry of the second new ball, India were 197/6, eight runs behind England. At this stage, Pant was on 55 off 91 balls. 43 balls later – 25 of which were delivered with the new ball – Pant fell, with India leading by 54. India’s wicketkeeper-batsman (that debate is settled, right?) had blasted 46 runs off the last 27 balls he faced.
England's WinViz when Rishabh Pant came to the crease: 33%
England's WinViz when he was dismissed: 7%#INDvENG
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) March 5, 2021
There were a few slashes and edges once the insanity kicked in; still, Pant walked off having been in control for 88 percent of his stay – a rate bettered only by Washington Sundar in this innings.
Pant and Washington added 113 runs in 26 overs, two batchmates from India’s U-19 World Cup runners-up finish of 2016 rescuing the senior team from 146/6 in a virtual semi-final, with a truly anomalous association in the context of this game: no other stand in the first two days is yet to have touched 50.
Washington, of course, is no stranger to seventh-wicket rescue acts in series-deciding fourth Tests, and what a resounding start this is for someone who was only a reinforcement six weeks ago. The 21-year-old has as many 50+ scores (3) in six Test innings as he had through the entirety of his first-class career before making his debut – you know, that same first-class career that lay halted for three years until the Australian summer.
Special as Washington was, this Friday belonged to Pant. This year – all of 64 days in – feels like it already belongs to Pant. Think about it? 97 at Sydney. 89 not out at Brisbane. 91 at Chennai. Now this.
Invariably – and unreasonably – in this age of hyper-reactions with an insatiable lust for comparisons, the world around him can’t help itself to drawing parallels between him and two other ‘keeper-batsmen: one of whom is India’s finest, the other, arguably, the greatest ever.
For those who can’t get over comparative metrics, chew on this: 20 Tests in, Pant already has half the centuries MS Dhoni hit in 90 matches; alongside Adam Gilchrist, Pant is now the only WK with Test centuries in England, Australia and India.
For those more inclined towards his individual growth, irrespective of past parameters, dwell on this: Pant had four dismissals in the 90s, three at home, including two this year coming into this Test. And then he played that reverse lap to enter the 90s, and slapped that six to cross it.
Audacious. Boisterous. Crazy. Delightful.
But here’s the thing. To many of us who sat in gaping admiration during his Sydney star-turn in January, Pant’s anguish upon falling at 97 may have seemed linked to missing out on what would have been a century for the ages. Did you notice the same anguish – if not more – as he walked back on Friday, the curtains having fallen on his 101?
The emotion was expertly put in perspective by Freddie Wilde. “Pant can achieve many things in his career but helping dispel cricket’s obsession with individual milestones could be one of his lasting legacies.”
Extraordinary. Fearless. Generational.
He’s writing his own dictionary. He’s rewriting our language. He’s all of 23.
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