From the First Salvo, Rishabh Pant Bats in his Own Brutal Ways
If it’s old Blighty and Test cricket in whites, the odds of Rishabh Pant, holding the England bowlers by the scruff of their neck is a distinct possibility. After a first hundred at London’s Oval in 2018, has come the Birmingham blockbuster with a scintillating 146.
On a more or less overcast first day — there were fleeting moments of a bright sky — of the Edgbaston Test, the ever belligerently looking Indian southpaw, Pant, deployed the bat to overwhelm the home attack that consisted of masters of swing and seam — James Anderson and Stuart Broad with over 1200 Test wickets together, the wannabe fast bowler Mathew Potts, game-changer Ben Stokes and a recent hero plying left-arm finger spin, Jack Leach.
Pant put each one of them to the sword to uncork a pulsating three-figure knock off only 111 balls with a score of short boundaries (4s) and four big (6s). In a little over three and a half hours, he caused the rescheduled fifth Test of the last year’s Pataudi Trophy to drift in favour of the Jasprit Bumrah-led visiting team.
As the India head coach Rahul Dravid described England’s” bright and positive cricket “against New Zealand after it was “one or two wickets away from being potentially close to losing the Test matches”, Pant, so typical of his bludgeoning ways of employing the willow, appeared to have turned the Test on its head, steering his team from a precarious 98 for 5 (Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer had been sent indoors by Anderson and Potts) to 320 and eventually to 416 in the first innings.
It was Pant’s fifth Test match century, the third against England and second in England. It was in the fourth innings of The Oval Test in September 2018 that he announced his arrival in international cricket as a most dangerous customer to deal with. Then he made 114 off 146 balls with 15 x 4s and four sixes.
Thereafter, he made a career-best unbeaten 159 (189b, 15 x 4s, 1x 6) in the drawn fourth Test at Sydney in January 2019. Then he scored his first home Test at Motera in Ahmedabad when most batsmen on either side came a cropper on a dubious pitch. Amazingly his 101 here came only off 118 balls with 13 x 4s and two sixes. And in the third innings of the third Test against South Africa at Newlands, Cape Town, he made an unbeaten 100 off 139 balls with 6x4s and four sixes.
The big change from his previous four centuries to the one at Edgbaston was that his strike rate touched a high of 131.53 in comparison with 78.08 at The Oval, 84.13 at Sydney, 85.59 at Motera, and 71.54 at Cape Town.
Perhaps another difference was the bit of circumspection he demonstrated till the time he crossed the three-figure mark. Kiran More who played 49 Test matches between 1986 and 1993 and who has worked with Pant on his wicketkeeping applauded the left-hander’s terrific innings.
“Bahuth Badiya knock..I think he has become mentally strong. When you have stroke players like him, they can be very dangerous, Vivian Richards, Matthew Hayden, and Virender Sehwag to name a few. They may have bad patches, but like Brian Lara, they will keep on going. There are batsmen who have done very well in Test cricket, but it’s the sort of knocks that Pant played, that people will remember,” said More.
Pant revealed at the post-day press conference that he plays the bowling, not the bowler and that he doesn’t look at the scoreboard. “That’s the correct way to play, each ball on its merit. It’s not a good thing to look at the scoreboard in a Test match, you can, in an ODI and Twenty20. But in a Test match, it’s dangerous. Pant takes chances, he might get out. But he can change the course of the matches and that’s what he has done. Pant reads the game well, and he’s been a street-smart cricketer since his early days.
“He has been around in international cricket for four years, and he has learned a lot. England bowled a lot within the stumps. He played the fast bowlers close to his body, and the spinners away from his body. When he defended, he did that very close to his body. It was a superb knock, a great knock. The good thing is that all the Indian ‘keepers are doing well. KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan, Dinesh Karthik, and Sanju Samson.”
What sets apart Pant from the others is his scoring rate, which is well over four runs an over. Since his debut and after 30 Tests (before the start of the Edgbaston Test and among wicketkeepers) his average is 40.85, slightly lower than South African Quinton de Kock (45.53) who has retired from multi-day Test cricket, Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan (43.96, New Zealand’s Tom Blundell (41.75), and Bangladesh’s Liton Das (44.86). In terms of the runs scored (after his debut), Pant is ahead among stumpers with 2066 runs.
Time and again, Pant has proved to his well-wishers and critics that he can be counted upon to deliver the goods when the chips are down. With another doughty batsman in Ravindra Jadeja, he raised 222 runs for the team, which flattened the English attack. He made 146 in four Test matches and seven innings last year in England, at Edgbaston he scored the same number of runs in a single innings!
Left-handers, when they get going, are a great sight to watch. The only difference in Pant is that he is brutal; no half-hearted measures with him. The stepping-out off-drive of Anderson and shots square of the wicket and the other variety of ways he hits the ball can be quite deflating to young bowlers. But that’s the only way Pant knows to bat, from firing the first salvo. More said: Players like Rishabh Pant will keep Test cricket alive.