Don’t just threaten him. Drop him! Let Rishabh Pant go back to the drawing board, work on his weaknesses and then earn his spot back in the Indian team. The Team India coach, skipper and the selectors need to realise that Pant doesn’t value his blue jersey enough, as much as he should, and that is evident from the manner in which he tosses his wicket away so often.
Last week, a couple of days before the India-South Africa T20 international at Mohali, head coach Ravi Shastri had said that Pant would receive a rap on the knuckles, talent or no talent, if he fails to analyse the situation and keeps selecting wrong shots. He believed that the young man wasn’t only letting himself down but he was letting the team down too. In the same breath, but not in so many words, he had also said that Pant wouldn’t be dropped and nobody would even think of changing his style but that he had to learn to read the match situation and select shots accordingly.
Shastri would know — as anyone who has played the game at any level would — that Pant needs to change his mindset if he has to block the shots that get him into trouble regularly. For that, he would have to redesign his batting. However, if Team India is going to make him complacent by picking him for every match, despite failures, he will soon be lost to Indian cricket.
Team India’s new batting coach, Vikram Rathour too had echoed Shastri’s view on Pant’s careless attitude towards his batting and his responsibility towards the team. “He is a phenomenal player,” he had told reporters, “But he needs to sort out his game plan.”
If the words of the head coach and the batting coach were supposed to have any effect on Pant, they didn’t. At Mohali on 18 September, in the second T20 international against South Africa, he got out to a rank bad ball, with only four runs against his name. After a careful few minutes at the crease, he hit a half-volley from Bjorn Fortuin right down Tabraiz Shamsi’s throat at short fine-leg. What followed was that slow march back to the hut with a sheepish smile on his face that we are now so used to seeing.
If Pant is such a huge talent — and there is very little doubt on that count — he has to perform on a regular basis. One brilliant knock, in which he gets away with a few hoicks and then a series of low scores isn’t what talent is all about. The team management therefore doesn’t need to give him a rap on his knuckles; they need to pick somebody else more deserving and give Pant a break while he realises the value of the India colours that he wears so lightly. “Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character,” said Albert Einstein. By mollycoddling him, the Team India management is only making him ‘weaker’.
Though I am not a big fan of cricket statistics, Pant’s figures in one-day internationals (ODIs) and T20 internationals make for dismal reading. In 12 ODIs till date, he has scored only 229 runs @ 22.9, while in 18 T20 matches for India, he has scored a meagre 302 runs @ 21.52. He may have done a whole lot better in Tests, against expectations, but a cluttered mindset is bound to get him into trouble in the traditional version of the game too if he isn’t careful.
Pant is a batsman-‘keeper rather than it being the other way round. Honestly, he isn’t the best behind the stumps by any standards. A chirpy character normally, followers of the game will have noticed that he goes silent for quite a while after he drops a catch or misses a stumping — a trait that surely reveals self-esteem issues.
It would therefore be beneficial for the young man to return to the nets, work on his batting technique, work extra hard on his keeping, tweak his mindset a bit and start missing the fame and recognition that playing for India brings. If he is really talented he will bounce back just as soon as he learns to control his instincts.
In 1983, when the West Indies bowlers thought they had had the measure of Sunil Gavaskar, he came up with the short-arm hook which actually neutralised the tactics of intimidation adopted by Malcolm Marshall and Co in that series. All greats do that. Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli too have been able to curb their stroke play to succeed in England against the moving ball. It was grit, determination and an organised mindset that brought them success. There is no reason why Pant can’t cut out some of the fancy shots from his armoury and still score runs at a fair clip.
Pant should know that there are quite a few ambitious ‘keeper-batsmen out there who are working their butt off to find a place – his place - in the Indian team. He should also know that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Therefore, before Pant becomes an ex-India star, who promised much, Shastri, Kohli and the selectors will have done him a favour by dropping him from the Indian squad.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and sports administrator, he believes in calling a spade a spade.
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