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Rishabh Pant exclusive: Playing local cricket in Delhi made me fearless

"Bhaiya, bas aa hi raha hu, aap apna camera bahar set up kar lo (Brother, I am coming in a while; you can set your camera up outside)," says a voice from inside the Reliance-1 team dressing room at the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai.

At the first meeting, you can be forgiven to mistake Rishabh Pant as a player who would dab and graft his way to a century, rather than a marauder who would smash the bowlers to all ends of the park. Ask the Canara Bank bowlers, who had just received a battering from 19-year-old Rishabh in the DY Patil T20 Tournament and you would get the perfect answer.

File photo of young wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant. Getty Images

File photo of young wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant. Getty Images

Eighty-four off 34 balls with nine fours and six sixes had just taken the wind out of the sails of the Canara Bank bowlers as Delhi boy Rishabh had powered his team Reliance-1 to victory, helping them chase down 120 in just 10.2 overs.

"Accha hua aap interview ke liye jaldi aa gaye, nahi to mai nikal jaata (It's good that you have come ahead of time; I would have left otherwise)," Rishabh replies with a smile as I congratulate him on finishing off the match really quickly.

I inform him that we are going to do a live interview on Facebook and he responds with child-like enthusiasm. Rishabh is the holder of the record for the fastest century in Ranji Trophy history. He is only the third youngest Indian to score a first-class triple century and the fourth youngest overall. He is the holder of the fastest U-19 fifty. Having scored 972 runs at an average of 81 in the Ranji Trophy, earning him a maiden call-up to the Indian side for the T20s against England.

Pant might seem to be a marauder on the field but off it, his innocent charm grips you. Every answer starts with 'Bhaiya', which brings out his courteous character, as he sits down for a chat with Firstpost.

FP: You've received a maiden call-up to the Indian side. What's going through your mind right now?

RP: Right now, I am just happy that I have received a maiden Indian call-up. I will try my best to capitalise on it if I get a chance (to play).

FP: You've just hit 84 off 34 balls and looked in good form. It has to be a good warm-up for the T20Is...

RP: Yes, brother, it gives me momentum for the T20s and it's good that I got two-three T20 matches (before the England series), because recently we were playing long form cricket and arrived here on the back of four-day cricket in the Ranji Trophy.

FP: You are a flamboyant batsman. Were you naturally aggressive or has it happened after watching the T20 generation?

RP: It came to me naturally. I didn't develop it as such.

FP: Where did this fearless approach come from?

RP: By constantly playing matches in Delhi, the fearless approach develops by itself. In local matches, you have to score big and because of that I have developed this approach.

FP: Has your approach right from early days been that you only have to attack the bowlers?

RP: No, there isn't a mindset as such that I only have to attack the bowlers. It depends on the situation and the kind of bowling. If there are loose balls then what's the harm in capitalising on them?

FP: Was that fastest fifty against Nepal in the U-19 World Cup last year the turning point of your career?

RP: I haven't thought about it along those lines. I just concentrate on performing. I don't think 'this is my turning point or that is my turning point'. If you keep performing well, everything will go well.

FP: How much did the U-19 World Cup help you in your career so far?

RP: The U-19 World Cup helped me a lot. It provided me a platform (to showcase my talent). You play the Ranji Trophy and then you get other things. While playing for India U-19, you get a higher platform and people start to know and recognise you and then you get through to the IPL, which provides a massive boost in terms of confidence.

FP: Delhi legend Virender Sehwag's game is predominantly dependent on hand-eye coordination. Is your batting too largely dependent on it?

RP: Well, it's the coaches who can tell whether my game is built on hand-eye coordination (smiles). I play according to what I know and what my coach teaches me. It is upon the experts to make out what my game is built on or how I play.

FP: There is a notion that attacking batsmen tend to be sloggers. But we have seen you playing textbook shots while still being aggressive. Is it a conscious decision to avoid slogging?

RP: No, there is no conscious decision as such that I shouldn't slog or play in a certain way. It depends on what the bowling is like. If the ball is on the leg stump, and one that demands slogging then it will be slogged. Or if the ball is on driveable length, then it will be driven. It all depends on the kind of bowling.

FP: You open the batting after keeping wickets for a long time. There are very few wicketkeeper-batsmen who open the innings. How do you switch between the roles efficiently?

RP: Bhaiya karna padta hai (I have to do it, brother). Every player has a job to carry out. Whether it be a bowler or a batsman, it's his job to bat or bowl. If I am a wicketkeeper, it's my job to keep wickets. For that you need to maintain a good fitness level and concentrate more than the others.

FP: What do you do to increase your concentration level?

RP: Not anything special really. I just sit down alone and concentrate.

FP: Do you talk to yourself about your game while sitting alone in preparation for matches?

RP: (smiles) Kabhi kabaar kar leta hu (Sometimes I do talk to myself).

FP: What do you tell yourself?

RP: Anything, like I have to do well, I have to do it like this... anything.

FP: How much has your wicketkeeping helped you in your batting and vice versa?

RP: Both the things are related. If you are keeping first then it helps you in your batting because you get an inkling about the pitch – how the track is behaving, how the ball is behaving off the pitch, and if you are batting first then you get the knowledge of how the pitch is behaving (and adjust accordingly in your wicketkeeping). So the two things are related.

FP: Have both the things helped you in the development of your overall game?

RP: Yes, they have helped me a lot.

FP: In one of the articles I read that when you hit the triple century, you had gone in with the mindset that you had to also keep the opposition on the field for two days because they had done the same. Are you an in-your-face kind of a person who wants to pay the opposition back in the same coin?

RP: Obviously, if you have fielded for two days and it's a four-day match then you should also bat for two days. That's how it should be. It shouldn't be that you end up only fielding. If you get out early, then they will bat again. So, isse accha hai ki aap do din waapas batting karo; tabhi to baat banegi (smiles cheekily) (It's better that you also bat for two days; that's how things should be).

FP: How are you off the field? Do you carry your aggression while batting off the field as well?

RP: Off the field I am bit less aggressive.

FP: You have had a brilliant Ranji season. What was the secret behind your success?

RP: The secret was that I capitalised on the time in my off-season. I worked on my fitness, skill and improved my wicketkeeping and batting. Because of this I had a pretty good Ranji season.

FP: Did you work on any technical aspects in the off-season?

RP: Yes, pretty much. I attend my club and practice regularly. My coach Tarak Sinha has helped me a lot and it has benefited me immensely.

FP: What steps have you been taking to improve your wicketkeeping?

RP: There are a few drills that I do. I practice wicketkeeping more as compared to batting. I take help from other wicketkeepers, like Kiran More. I take as much help as possible from others.

FP: Have you been learning the art of wicketkeeping from Mahendra Singh Dhoni as well?

RP: I haven't met him yet. When I meet him, I will try to learn.

FP: Haven't you been learning by watching him in action?

RP: Watching and learning is completely different to taking one-on-one lessons.

FP: You have said that Adam Gilchrist is your idol. What were your early lessons from watching him bat and keep wickets?

RP: I used to like his innovative ideas. For example, if the ball slipped through his hands, he would use his legs to stop it. Likewise, now I try and follow Dhoni, who brings in such innovative ideas. Now I follow him a lot. You should follow whoever is doing well and try and learn as much as possible.

FP: You scored a triple century in the Ranji Trophy. Where did you get this hunger for big scores?

RP: I used to keep hearing from people that only the ones who score big play for their country. I used to hear this a lot. The coaches too used to tell this. So it would always run in my mind. So when I used to go out to bat I would always tell myself, "You have to score big, you have to score big", and this it how it (the hunger for big scores) developed.

FP: What's usually your gameplan when you go in to bat? Do you take it hour by hour, or session by session?

RP: I go ball by ball. I play shots on the merit of the ball, nothing is pre-planned. If it's a bad ball then I would capitalise on it and if it's a good one then I would leave it alone.

FP: Do you go with the same mindset in ODIs, T20Is and Tests?

RP: The mindset is the same but there is a slight difference in the intent. In Tests the slip cordon is heavy, so you have to be careful enough to know that you shouldn't chase the wide one. So such modifications help you (in different formats).

FP: If a bowler is going through a good spell, what's your approach at that time – is it to give him respect and see him off or counterattack to neutralise his threat?

RP: It depends on the team's situation. If your team needs more runs then you have to take on the bowler. Sometimes you just have to back off. It all depends on the situation of the team.

FP: What is the biggest thing you learnt by rubbing shoulders with international players?

RP: That discipline is very necessary in cricket. It's a good thing that you get name and fame, but it helps you a lot in your life if you have discipline.

FP: What all have you learnt from Rahul Dravid, the coach of the India U-19 side?

RP: The one thing I learnt from him is to always try to be consistent. You need to be balanced, you don't have to feel very down if something bad happens or should not get too elated if something good happens. You should always try to be normal.

FP: You being a naturally aggressive batsman, has anyone advised you to tone down a bit on your aggression?

RP: Every coach is different, every coach has his own way of thinking. Someone says you take your time and play, someone says play your natural way. It depends, you can't listen to everyone.

FP: How do you switch off?

RP: I play Playstation, listen to songs, have some fun with friends.

FP: Do you follow football?

RP: I don't follow football but I like playing the game.

FP: What position do you play in?

RP: Everywhere except at goal (laughs).

FP: What next then for Rishabh Pant?

RP: Now that I have been named in the India squad, I have received a chance to do more hard work and learn more. I want to capitalise on this opportunity. Staying with Virat (Kohli) and Dhoni and others, as a youngster, I will try and learn as much as I can.

FP: What's the best advice that you have received so far?

RP: (Ponders)"Saari advice acchi hi mili hai sabse (smiles) (All the advice that I have received have been good).


Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 09:59 AM

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