Some ten days ago, just prior to the selection of India’s team for the 2019 World Cup, Delhi Capitals (DC) beat Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at Eden Gardens by seven wickets. Riding on Shikhar Dhawan’s 97 not out, it was the starting point of their current in-form journey that now sees this re-energised franchise sitting atop the points’ table.
Rishabh Pant was the other contributor that day, smacking 46 off 31 balls. Funnily enough, his knock invited criticism from some quarters — something about finishing the innings.
This is T20 cricket. Not every batsman can, or will, finish the innings and get you across the victory line. And Pant is naturally exuberant, attacking more than your average batsman. It is an obvious rider to his style of play that a dismissal — particularly in the shortest format — is right around the corner. Even so, there is a school of thought suggesting this criticism was totally warranted.
Competing with the likes of MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik, Pant is required to show more maturity, both in front and behind the stumps. Maybe it is unfair — both Dhoni and Karthik are vintage international cricketers. Perhaps, they were finished products even before Pant decided to pursue cricket as a career and have built on reputation since then. Given time, and space to grow on his own, there is no doubt that Pant will reach that status as well.
Due selection process, however, doesn’t take unfair comparisons into consideration. It is all about numbers, here and now. There is none with Dhoni at present, but Pant lost out to Karthik on key factors. A pair of safer hands, maturity, and responsibility were the words thrown about in that selection meeting, and perhaps it was not so much about numbers alone. Either way, being omitted from the World Cup squad altogether and put on standby in case of injury ought to have stung Pant.
Truth be told, he isn’t the only one in this boat. Ambati Rayudu and even Ajinkya Rahane are also names that were struck out in this manner. The latter was in action in Jaipur on Monday night as well, and played in a carefree manner that is now rarely seen when he comes to the crease. Rahane — as a top-order limited-overs’ batsman — has great experience, and more importantly, the wherewithal to shape an innings the way he desires. Maybe he was bogged down by his own expectations ahead of World Cup selection, or maybe he felt the pressures of captaincy too. Liberated now, Rahane was in his true element.
Never mind Dhawan’s continued run of form (a good sign for India by the way), only Pant could have outdone Rahane on this night. There is a natural exuberance about Pant, which cannot be overcome by thoughts of wisdom or suggestions of improved maturity. You cannot control his natural aggression, but maybe you can channel it in the right direction. Indian coach Ravi Shastri understood this, and helped channelise it when Pant smashed a century in the Sydney Test in January. For Delhi Capitals, it now seems Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly are trying to do the same, albeit within the restrictions of this shortest format.
Meanwhile, a key element of Capitals’ progression this season is down to their away form. Five out of their seven wins this season have come away from Delhi, and it is a wonder that they have enjoyed better bounce and carry on pitches in Kolkata, Mumbai, Mohali, Jaipur, and Hyderabad. They were beaten on the slower surface in Chennai, mind you, highlighting perhaps the one chink in their batting armoury.
A clean-hitter like Pant obviously enjoys such pitches where the bounce is consistent. It is reflected in his Test record as well, wherein he boasts hundreds in England and Australia, a feat matched by no other Indian keeper-batsman, not even Dhoni.
In Jaipur then, Pant started with a flourish and continued in the same vein throughout. For most parts, this innings had shades of his knock against Mumbai Indians at Wankhede in the first half of this IPL season. Watching Pant in full flow is an unbridled joy, yet the scene that held most prominence was how Delhi Capitals’ bench exulted in joy when he finished the game.
“I won’t lie. The selection thought was running through my mind,” Pant said in the post-match press conference. Missing out on the World Cup obviously rankles him, and it should. In that light, this knock against Rajasthan Royals could go down as an important dual-marker in Pant’s limited-overs’ career.
First, it reflects on what he can do when Pant gets his head down and understands the importance of tempering some of his shots just so he can help the team reach the finish line. And second, it shows us what India will potentially miss in England this summer — an explosive young talent unlike any other in world cricket at the moment.