Rishabh Pant’s frustrating run of form continued in the T20I series against South Africa. Despite criticism over his poor judgment of match situations from fans, experts, and even Team India’s head coach Ravi Shastri, there seemed to be hardly an improvement in his batting style.
In the second T20I of the series, Pant failed to time a short-of-a-length ball perfectly as he went for a smack on the leg side and found the fielder. It was a poor ball which probably deserved to be hit, but Pant’s poor record in recent history didn’t help him escape criticism. Yesterday, however, Pant let his instincts overpower his ability to read the situation again, as he threw himself to a wide-outside-off delivery and mistimed it.
It has become a pattern with the 21-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, and the opposition, in this case, South Africa, premeditated Pant’s move for his dismissal in the third game. The bowler, Bjorn Fortuin even had the field set for the dismissal and Pant very kindly obliged – even if it required a complete loss in balance and an overt stretching of arms to hit the delivery.
The flamboyant batsman has the backing of skipper Virat Kohli and the team management, but there have been signs of annoyance at Pant’s stubborn style of batting.
Team India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour, when asked about the situation around Pant, began with praise in abundance about Rishabh Pant’s aggressiveness. Then, however, he added a ‘but’, and everyone knew what was coming. Rathour insisted that one can’t be careless to show he’s fearless.
“We want him to play all his shots. That is what makes him special, he is an impact player but at the same time you can't be careless,” Rathour had said.
“All the young players need to understand that there is a fine line between fearless cricket and careless cricket. What the team management is asking from them is fearless cricket, having clear gameplans and playing with intent but at the same time, you can't be careless. I am sure they are smart enough to understand that.”
Rathour is not the only one sceptical about Pant’s batting. Ravi Shastri, in an interview ahead of the series, was rather blunt in his criticism about the youngster’s approach.
“There will be a rap on the knuckles there – talent or no talent – because you are letting the team down, forget letting yourself down. You are letting the team down in a situation where you have the captain at the other end,” Ravi Shastri said about the wicketkeeper-batsman. The match in question here was the third ODI between India and West Indies last month.
Pant arrived at the crease with India needing 165 to win in 22.3 overs. Skipper Virat Kohli was playing a fine knock at the other hand, but the youngster chose to whip the very first ball he faced on the leg-side, throwing his wicket away.
“No one will change his style but match awareness becomes crucial, shot selection becomes crucial in particular situations,” Shastri had further said. “If he can fathom that out, he could be unstoppable. You mentioned how many games [it would take], it could be one game, it could be four games. I don’t see more than that.”
Many experts, including former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar, Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman have also come in support of Pant. The consensus among those defending Pant is that the team management needs to loosen him up a bit – avoid burdening the youngster with pressure.
Gavaskar wasn’t exactly a fan of the team management being publicly vocal about Pant’s flaws. “With experience he will be better at shot selection and will be more consistent but right now he needs a hand around his shoulders rather than a public dressing down. The most important thing for the young man to understand is that he has to play according to the situation and not according to the expectations of the public,” Gavaskar wrote in Mid-day.
The pressure is almost doubled with the fact that he is a successor to Dhoni, whose contributions to Indian cricket have been invaluable. His cultural impact on Indians as cricket fans is justifiably huge as well - in yesterday’s game, India went horribly wrong with a review while defending the target, and the crowd immediately began chanting Dhoni’s name. The 38-year-old’s accuracy with DRS has been well documented.
Pant had no option but to smile, retrospect and move on with the game.
However, while pressure will always be an inseparable part in such a situation, Pant needs to understand that he is doing no good to his reputation with the repetitive mistakes and his back-ups are suggestively being readied, according to chief selector MSK Prasad.
“We are monitoring the workload of Rishabh. Of course, we have been grooming backups across all formats. We have the young KS Bharath doing well in the longer format for India A. We also have Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson doing well in the shorter formats for India ‘A’ and domestic cricket,” Prasad had said.
The youngster has been given a decent-enough rope in the side so far, but even as Pant boasts of talent in abundance, the pressure on the rope is mounting with every passing failure. With two Twenty20 World Cup tournaments coming in next two years, Virat Kohli has already made it clear that he inclines to experiment with the setup, and it will not be long before Pant, too, is considered dispensable.