Rishabh Pant reminds you of Virender Sehwag. Not only because of his ability to massacre the ball but his plain-speaking as well. Amid a dressing room full of players who latch onto jargons used by the national team players and recycle them at you, he stands apart. He says things as he sees them. A lot of players in the team have their eyes set on the February 6 IPL auction. Eight players from the squad — Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant, Mahipal Lomror, Shubham Mavi, Avesh Khan, Khaleel Ahmed, Mayank Dagar, Washington Sundar — have thrown their hats in the ring. Only Pant has admitted that it’s on his mind.
“It is always on the mind, but it wasn’t during the match. I don’t know anyone there (in the IPL), koi bhi franchise mile, chalega,” Pant said, after the match against Nepal on Monday.
What triggered the question was his whirlwind 24-ball 78, laced with nine fours and five humongous hits over the rope, and the fact that it was India’s last match before the IPL auction. They play their quarterfinal on the same day as the auction. It was, therefore, an audition of sorts, and many IPL scouts must have sat up and taken note of this hard-hitter from Delhi.
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Chasing a paltry 169, Pant pounced on the very first ball, shuffling across to off and muscling it past mid-wicket for four. It looked like he had planned during the break that he would go after the bowlers.
“It was nothing like that,” he said. “Pata nahi kaise hua… ball aayi aur hogaya.”
In a way this onslaught was coming. Pant is not known to hold back, he likes to take on the bowler and the match by the scruff of the neck. In the first game, counter-intuitively, he made a scratchy six runs after struggling for fifty minutes. In the second, two quick wickets meant he had to become cautious and build innings.
The fact that India weren’t chasing too many and also that wickets weren’t falling at the other end gave Pant the licence to uncork his bottled-up aggression. After the first-ball four, it looked like he was trying to force himself on the ball. But soon he started timing the ball well, too.
Nepal’s military medium offering also helped his cause and he smoked two massive sixes off the frail looking 5’6’’ Aarif Sheikh, plundering 18 runs from the second over.
Those who have seen him from close quarter say he practises power-hitting for hours on end. It showed as some of the sixes that he hit today went comfortably over the rope — a couple even in the stands. And Sher-e-Bangla Stadium is a big ground.
With Ishan Kishan too joining him in the run-fest, Nepal captain Raju Rijal turned to his slower bowlers. Pant wasn’t in a mood to slow down, though. A rasping drive for four off off-spinner Prem Tamang brought up his fifty, in just 18 balls. It just fuelled Pant’s frenzy further and he went into absolute overdrive. He was eyeing AB de Villiers’s record.
“I wanted to make the record for the fastest century,” he admitted. “At the start I did not know about the record. Later it came to my mind, and then I was going for it. I’d been taking my time in the last couple of fixtures, so thought I’ll play positively here.”
And it looked like he would pull it off, too, as the last seven ball that he connected read: 4,4,4,6,4,6,6. The next ball, however, he missed completely as he tried to make room and loft Tamang with an inside-out shot over extra cover. The ball spun and disturbed his stumps.
The audition was over. We will know the result on February 6. It’s also the day of India’s quarterfinal, and knowing Pant, he may like to have a go at the record again.
Brief scores: Nepal 169/8 in 48 overs (Sandeep Sunar 37, Rajbir Singh 35; Avesh Khan 3/34, Washington Sundar 2/20) lost to India 175/3 in 18.1 overs (Rishab Pant 78, Ishan Kishan 52) by 7 wickets