Rishabh Pant's recent leg injury notwithstanding, the good news is he is now playing more shots on the off side, something that has made his personal coach Tarak Sinha happy, and acknowledged by the great Brian Lara. Sinha says Pant is now a "more sensible" cricketer.
The left-handed Pant, who plays for Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League, was criticised for playing predominantly on the onside, and was considered a bit weak on the offside. But a word of advice from Sinha and his own effort to get in as much cricket practice as possible after the Covid-enforced lockdown was lifted, has paid rich dividends.
The result was visible in the first six IPL matches he played in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), before a leg injury in the game against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) sidelined him for a week.
"Earlier, he would play lofted shots on the onside. But now he is playing shots on the offside too and is hitting boundaries as well. From a cricketer's point, the difference is visible. The change is there, though a big score hasn't come so far in this IPL," Sinha, the winner of Dronacharya Award, India's top award for coaches, told IANS.
The lockdown prevented Sinha from meeting his star pupil, but he had a word with Pant before he left for UAE for the IPL.
"We haven't met face to face for more than six months due to Covid. He was at his home in Roorkee during the lockdown. After unlock, he practiced in Gurgaon and Ghaziabad, along with Suresh Raina and Piyush Chawla, because we were not having practice at our club in Delhi as a precautionary measure," informed Sinha, who runs the famous Sonnet Club.
"But I tried to impress upon him on phone that if he wants to play for India for long, he would have to improve a lot, and that includes offside play. Cricket has become so advanced that everyone bisects your strong and weak points. So, you will have to work constantly on your game," he said.
Sinha is satisfied that Pant is maturing as a cricketer. "He is playing well; there's nothing wrong with his game. In T20 cricket, if you are batting lower down the order you get the chance to bat only when top wickets fall quickly. Also, he is not getting the balls that he could swat for sixes, for which he is well-known. At the moment, Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan and Shreyas are batting well for DC, so Rishabh is getting less number of balls to play," pointed out the veteran coach, who has produced many international cricketers from the Sonnet stable.
"But he is playing for the team, and that is what counts. It may be that he has not scored as many runs as expected. His form is good; he is batting well, and his wicket-keeping has improved as well. Earlier, he would attempt to smash every ball for a six. But now he has become sensible, and that is good for him. And, the Delhi Capitals are performing well," he said, referring to the team's second position on points table.
Pant has so far tallied 176 runs in six matches at a strike rate of 133.33, and has got out for a single-digit score just once.
The well-built batsman started with a 31 off 29 against Kings XI Punjab, followed by 37 not out off 25 against Chennai Super Kings, 28 off 27 against SunRisers Hyderabad, 38 off 17 against Kolkata Knight Riders, 37 off 25 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, and 5 off 9 against Rajasthan Royals.
Pant got injured in the game against Rajasthan Royals, and has been ruled out for a week. "Whatever decision they have taken about Rishabh would surely be wise. And it is better for him as well, because a wicket-keeper has to take more load. The injury is unfortunate, but it is better that he gets completely fit before returning," said Sinha.
Former West Indies captain Lara, too, has acknowledged the progress Pant has made. "...he has also vastly improved his game. I am talking about his batting and the improvements he made in that department," Lara said on a TV show.
"On what is immediately noticeable is his propensity to try and get everything to the leg-side. Also look at his run scoring chart and that's a proof of that fascination he has with the on-side. I think he has come to the realisation that this is not working and he went away and worked on improving his off-side play," said the batting legend.
"He is now very well balanced and he is looking to score in key areas that he's not accustomed to scoring -- over extra cover, over point, in front of point, and his balance and his weight is staying there, he is not falling over to the offside to create shots on the leg side. That is a vast improvement that he has made, which is obviously going to help his all-round batting. I believe, this young lad has a long, long way to go," predicted Lara.