Rishabh Pant does not fear anything. He has a Virender Sehwag-like mindset and a bat swing of a professional golfer hammering a drive off the tee on a long par 5. He can hit the ball a long way and there is no defensive bone in his body. All these attributes might equal success on flat batting tracks, but in England where the ball hoops through the air or seams off the pitch, Pant can look like a sitting duck, well, at least all the purist would like to believe so. But in the past six weeks, he has been trailing his methods in the English conditions and come through unscathed.
So convincing has been Pant playing for India A that the Indian selectors in England along with India A coach Rahul Dravid believe he has the temperament to excel at the highest level. Pant's selection might have raised a few eyebrows, but with scores of 3, 67 not out, 58 and 61 against the England Lions and West India A team in England are an indicator that he can adapt to the foreign pitches.
With Dinesh Karthik as the premier wicket-keeper, it is unlikely Pant will feature in the playing XI and don the gloves in the Test arena. After all, he is only 20 years of age and is still raw in first-class cricket having only played 23 games. Importantly, this tour will provide him with a long exposure around the Indian dressing room, constantly rub shoulders with the likes of Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma, and understand what it takes to be a Test cricketer. Pant's attitude and work ethic will be monitored and there is every chance a niggling injury or a loss of form to Karthik could lead to him making his Test debut.
This tour presents Pant with a unique opportunity to be the understudy to a keeper that is unlikely to be part of the squad for a long time. It is a tour which presents him with a chance to develop his fitness, skills, and temperament by watching the elite from close quarters. There is every chance that if his attitude and work ethic is of the highest standards, he could become India's No 1 keeper by the time the Australian tour rolls around in six months time.
Last week Pant had received the highest of accolades when Dravid stated, "Pant is always going to be an attacking player but reading of the situation when one is playing red-ball cricket is required. Rishabh has shown that he could bat differently."
Good news for Pant is that the current captain and coach believe in playing an aggressive brand of cricket and the energetic left-hander fits right into that mould. One has to remember in his debut season in the Ranji trophy, Pant amassed 972 runs with four centuries at a strike-rate of 107. He has the appetite to construct long innings and his ability to take the game away from the opposition in a session could well mean India might need to bank on him if they fall behind in the series.
Ever since Pant burst onto the scene during the Under 19 World Cup in 2016, he has been touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket. Over the past weeks, he has proved his critics wrong by scoring runs at India A level on foreign pitches and he could well be on the verge of an India debut. If he eventually breaks into the playing XI, the results might not matter much, but his discipline, attitude, and temperament will be observed closely. He needs to be enthusiastic and showcase to the team management, he has what it takes to be at the highest level.
While Pant's belligerent batting might be rated highly by Dravid and other members of the think tank the big question is can he handle the wicket-keeping component. Most glovemen that have ventured to England will tell you that keeping against the dark duke ball is one of the toughest challenges. The ball tends to swerve and wobble once it passes the batsman. There have been plenty of renowned keepers that have ended up with broken fingers and blows on the wrists. The good news is that Pant has been in England for nearly six weeks and has had the luxury of practising his art and getting used to the conditions.
There are not many 20-year-olds that get a chance to be part of the national squads for five Tests in England. Pant has the chance to sharpen his skills with the gloves. The Delhi boy might or might not get a chance to play a Test, but the experience he will gain over the next few weeks could play a crucial role in shaping his career.
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