IPL 2017: Rishabh Pant's courageous innings goes in vain in typical Delhi Daredevils defeat

Sachin Tendulkar is Indian cricket’s past. Virat Kohli is the present. Every time the latter scores runs aplenty, there is mention of the former’s name, and there are parallels drawn galore. It goes beyond their dominance of opposition attacks, and their insatiable desire to score runs. It is much more than being the face of Indian cricket in their respective eras, donning bats with MRF stickers.

There is a common thread in mind set as well. Tendulkar flew back to play against Kenya in the 1999 World Cup after attending his late father’s final rites back home. All of us saw his century celebration that day — a look up at the heavens and a silent prayer with closed eyes. How many of us cried with him?

Delhi Daredevils Rishabh Pant plays a shot during the IPL 10  match against Royal Challengers Bangalore. PTI

Delhi Daredevils Rishabh Pant plays a shot during the IPL 10 match against Royal Challengers Bangalore. PTI

We didn’t witness Kohli’s bravery in such fashion, however, for when he suffered a similar bereavement, he was still busy with domestic cricket. As the legend goes then, despite his deep anguish, he returned to the Ranji game against Karnataka the next morning and saved the game for Delhi.

Tendulkar was 26 years old when it happened, already an ageless wonder for Indian cricket, and his journey back to the tournament was a signature of his mental strength, now weary from shouldering the weight of a billion expectations. Kohli was only 18 when his father passed away. Rishabh Pant suffered similarly this past week, aged 19. They are heroes for what they did on the field of play in the aftermath of their personal losses. They became men, from boys.

In that light, what we saw at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday night, in Pant’s 36-ball 57 runs, perhaps it was a reflection of Indian cricket’s future.

And it was in keeping with the times. Pant arrived at the crease, and duly dispatched the first ball he faced for six. It was his promised stage, especially after the fantastic run of form he has shown in domestic cricket this past season, and he stamped his arrival in true ballistic fashion. On air, Ravi Shastri talked about the confidence that runs deep in the Indian dressing room — of belonging at the international stage, irrespective of the conditions and opposition, and that inspiration of achieving the impossible.

This current Indian dressing room, from Kohli to Kuldeep Yadav who just made his Test debut, has gained this trait from the Indian Premier League. Sure, they all made their bones playing an elite domestic competition like the Ranji Trophy, but so did the golden generation of Tendulkar and others prior to them. Can’t you see the difference between the two, though?

Pant alone summarized it in his knock. He comes to the crease with a swagger, no target too far out of reach, the determination to do it single-handedly, and no opposition bowler is intimidating enough. Shane Watson’s bouncer was duly dispatched over square leg, and Tymal Mills’ pulled over long leg.

In every manner possible, the youngster looks a finished product already. And it shows why he made his international debut in January, at the same ground against England. The next time someone asks what the benefit of IPL is, point to a player like Pant, and say "there’s your answer!"

Beyond this confidence though, there was another emotion visible on his face this night. It was plain anguish. He wanted to win that game, maybe as an ode to his late father, and it showed when he trudged off the field after being dismissed, the slowest walk you will see this IPL season. Playing on Saturday night was painful for him, every delivery a mountain to climb, and yet he nearly got his team home, single-handedly.

‘Nearly’ is the operative word herein. It is too often that the Delhi Daredevils fall short of what they want to achieve, and this is a progressive malaise, passing on from one season to another. There was hope that it wouldn’t be the case in 2017 — that a team full of exciting young talent and replete with experienced seniors, mentored by one of the greatest cricketers ever, would get their act together from the very go.

But these are just words on paper. On the field, it is a different story because something or the other always does go wrong, and the Daredevils aren’t quite able to stitch together a complete game. Sample this — on arguably the best ground for hitting in this tournament, they restricted the Royal Challengers Bangalore to an ordinary 157. They did so by picking the right bowling attack, an optimal balance between pace and spin, and backed it up despite losing the toss.

Barring Pant’s innings though, the chase was ridiculous at best. Moving Sam Billings to the top was a fine decision, but someone forgot to tell him to stay put after making a good start. Karun Nair cannot buy a run at the moment. And when was the last time Sanju Samson did something of note?

The real body blow was that neither Chris Morris nor Carlos Brathwaite stayed with Pant too, as the Daredevils batting line-up sorely missed JP Duminy in the very first game of the season. The only lower-middle order batsman to bat some semblance of time — Amit Mishra — showed staggeringly poor awareness of the match situation. When he ought to have given Pant strike, the ‘experienced’ hand was busy wafting at thin air.

Thus, Pant faced only five balls in the last four overs Delhi faced. Silly doesn’t even begin to define this situation. In the season preview, one had compared the Daredevils with Arsenal, always promising the goods but never fulfilling the same. This defeat, from a winning position, was ‘peak Daredevils’ in keeping with the phrase ‘peak Arsenal’, whenever the Gunners fail to clear the final hurdle.

Mind you, this isn’t just another loss though. It is very much possible that the Daredevils will win every remaining game, sail through the knockouts and lift the trophy. Or, in keeping with recent years, once again they will crash and burn, finish lowly in the table.

This match, however, wasn’t about what this 2017 IPL season holds in store for this Delhi franchise. This match was about a 19-year-old who walked onto the field courageously, holding in awe, everyone and anyone watching him play through his agony.

Just staying with him at the other end, until he crossed the finish line, would have been sufficient comfort for his humongous effort. For he would have done the rest alone. The Daredevils, as a unit, failed Pant on Saturday night.

Updated Date: Apr 09, 2017 10:11 AM

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