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Insight 2017: Rishabh Pant, a boy who could be the man Indian cricket needs

“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim …”

Seven years ago, the Pants travelled to Delhi, down the slopes of Uttarakhand, to help their 12-year-old son realise his dream of playing cricket for India. When Wriddhiman Saha, India’s regular wicket-keeper stood down from a couple of Test matches against England recently, downed by injury, their son’s name was ‘discussed’ by the selectors before the experienced, long-forgotten Parthiv Patel was summoned.

Rishabh Pant, a rumbustious ‘keeper-batsman, who played in the Under-19 World Cup last year and only played his full Ranji Trophy season for Delhi in 2016, has taken rapid strides towards fulfilling his cherished dream. Even being considered as a replacement so early in his career is a shot in the arm for the teenager.

Austin Coutinho

Rishabh Pant, by Austin Coutinho

Will he make it to the Indian squad in 2017? After Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s sudden retirement from Tests, is he the replacement India is looking for? Rishab’s boyhood idol was Adam Gilchrist. He now worships MSD and Virat Kohli.

That he is a prodigy, there is very little doubt. Not many players can boast of four centuries in their first full Ranji season — including a triple hundred against Maharashtra and a 48-ball ton against Jharkhand – as he did in 2016.

Born in Roorkee, Haridwar, in the foothills of the Himalayas, on 4 October, 1997, he took to playing the game when he was only six. His parents, both of whom were school teachers, realising very early that scholastics weren’t his cup of tea, allowed him to concentrate on his game.

When Rishabh joined the nets at Delhi’s Sonnet Club, he was noticed by Tarak Sinha – a coach who has groomed many a Test player – and taken under his wing. His mentoring process included playing age group cricket in Rajasthan. Dubbed an ‘outsider’ as he started blossoming into a useful ‘keeper-batsman, he came back to Delhi and made it to the Under-19 World Cup of 2015.

He scored a whirlwind fifty against Nepal and then a brilliant hundred against Namibia in the World Cup, helping India qualify for the semifinals. That he was picked by Delhi Daredevils in 2015, for Rs. 1.9 Crore, fighting off bids from three other franchises, was for him the icing on the cake.

From the purists’ point of view, Rishabh can’t be called a technically good batsman. The qualities that endear him to cricketing pundits, however, are his hand-eye coordination, the ample time that he has to play his shots and his belief in his ability to clear the long boundaries. He is good behind the wickets too, but has a lot to learn before he can be compared to somebody like Dhoni, or even Wriddhiman Saha.

During the Ranji season just gone by, he scored a brilliant 146 against Assam, a 308 against Maharashtra – when Swapnil Gugale and Ankit Bawne put up that massive stand against Delhi – and then got 117 and 135 against Jharkhand. The last hundred came off only 48 balls!

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Rishabh has now played 10 Ranji matches (two of them last season), scoring 1,080 runs at 72.00 per inning and a strike rate of 102. He has hit 114 fours and an incredible 43 sixes!

Given the mentoring by Tarak Sinha, and his own tremendous self-belief, he should find it easy to play for India in the shorter formats of the game. He will, however, have to learn a thing or two from someone like Dhoni if he has to make it to the Test side. Superbly talented players like Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and even Rohit Sharma, have found the going tough in the five-day game, which requires a different sort of mindset.

The Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in India will do well to groom Rishabh for the battles ahead, especially the World Cup in 2019. In the meanwhile, he will have to put his head down – remaining un-spoilt by the attention he gets — and put those scores up on the board. Another thing that Rishabh will have to do is to take his wicketkeeping skills a few notches up.

It is going to be hard work. But he seems destined to be there, at the top!

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it.
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

— Rudyard Kipling’s If

The author is a cricket and mental toughness coach, having mentored several first class cricketers including the present Mumbai Ranji captain. He is also a cartoonist.


Updated Date: Jan 01, 2017 08:27 AM

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