“Pehla ball four? Yaad nahi hai.” “Pehla, meine ek ball dekha, I knew the pitch was for batting, and then I started to hit.” “Sirf IPL sey kuch nahi hota.” Sirf 100 sey kuch nahi hota aajkal”. And the best was “Sab kuch chaapne ke liye nahi hai!” after sharing quite a harmlessly funny anecdote from the game.
The 19-year old Rishabh Pant talks in such a disarmingly sweet way that it’s easy to see how he keeps his batting uncomplicated. To borrow a Sehwagism – “seedha aaya toh roko, baaki sab toko!” (Defend the straight ball, smash everything else), Pant toko-ed a lot on a flat track on Saturday, took Delhi to 376 for 2, and stands between Maharashtra and the first-innings lead.
The first ball that he incidentally misremembered after initially forgetting wasn’t a dot ball. It was the first ball after lunch, and he went down the track to heave the offspinner Chirag Khurana, who was the only spinner in the match to have turned the ball a bit, through wide mid-on. There were two more fours in the next three balls – a pull and a cut off Khurana. And he says later, he doesn’t really remember the start.
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“Coach aur captain faayda yeh hai ki, they tell me to play my game, Jyaada socho mat”. It seems an eminently sensible advice to give an exuberant kid like him. It was quite an entertaining knock but it’s better to be cautious here and record the state of pitch, the average bowling quality. We need sterner tests to see what he is made of but one thing is clear, the boy likes wallop the small red thing.
He isn’t as ungainly as Atul Bedade, for those who remember him, but he isn’t your attractive big-hitter as in you won’t notice his fluidity in bat-flow and such, but he punches the ball ever so sweetly and with power, and likes to loft the spinners. There was a good pulled-six off a seamer as well and the coach KP Bhaskar tells how he repeatedly smashed the likes of Assam’s Abu Nachim who hurled quite a few bouncers at him in the previous game.
There is this shot he plays — and picked up a few sixes on Saturday — which excited the press pack enough to ask Bhaskar, the coach, to explain it.
From afar, the way the bat finishes up in the follow-through, the straight lofted chipped-hit he plays seems to suggest it was intended for long-on. “See, the bat actually comes straight, he connects early, and then as the ball does a full follow-through, it seems to point towards long-on.”
Time and again, he came down the track to the spinners and air-lifted them with a furious extra effort right at the point of contact. It wasn’t all hit-and-giggle though, as he did play quite a few defensive blocks.
“I have been trying to concentrate harder. Previously, I used to give it away but my coaches have been telling me I need to carry on. Aajkal sirf 100 sey kuch nahi hota aajkal”
All said and done, it was a day where Maharashtra ended with advantage. They took out Unmukt Chand early – he fell driving a full delivery from the debutant left-arm seamer Mohsin Sayyed outside-off to backward point, and soon reduced Delhi to 135 for 3, but they ran into Pant.
He offered couple of tough chances – one came off an attempted paddle but was too quick for the keeper to latch on to- and the one time they came real close was when he was on 33. He had lofted the left-arm spinner Satyajit Bachhav towards long-on and Rahul Tripathi ran back from mid-on, did all the hard work, even managed to turn his body and position himself under the swirling ball but it popped out.
That was that. Pant let loose but to their credit Maharashtra kept hanging in there, and were delighted to take out the solid Dhruv Shorey. There was even a wicket in the last over of the day when Sayyad induced Milind Kumar to edge behind to the keeper. “Aaj tak muskhil sey teen-chaar baar, coach (Tarak Sinha) would have praised me, chalo kuch nahi, bahut time hai mere paas!” Maybe, if he manages to help Delhi take 260 runs more that’s needed to get the lead, may be there will be a congratulatory call from Sinha.
BRIEF SCORES: Maharashtra: 635 for 2 decl vs Delhi: 376 for 5 (Dhruv Shorey 71, Nitish Rana 44, Rishabh Pant not out 155, Milind Kumar 45; Mohsin Sayyed 3/73).