Adam Gilchrist was the reason why Rishabh Pant wanted to play cricket. Becoming a keeper-batsman thus turned out to be a natural preference. For a kid growing up in Haridwar, lack of facilities and infrastructure, however, had been a major hindrance. So he moved to Rajasthan where he started playing age-group (U-14) cricket. But things didn’t work out there and Pant wanted to come to Delhi. He eventually managed to convince his parents.
At Sonnet Club in Delhi he found his mentor. Tarak Sinha, one of the most respected cricket coaches in the country, took him under his wings. The journey began, and now he’s considered one of the brightest prospects in Delhi cricket. Pant has already made it to the first-class level. Selection for this tri-series in Kolkata was almost a formality.
On Saturday, at Jadavpur University’s Salt Lake campus ground, the 18-year-old showed glimpses of his talent during his 88-ball 87 that set up a 33-run win for India Under-19 against Afghanistan colts.
Pant didn’t play the first match on Friday. He was brought in for this game as the squad was rotated. Eight new players made it to the playing XI and Pant was sent to open the innings. Like his idol, Pant also bats left-handed. He likes to dominate the bowling. A clean striker of the ball, the best thing about him is his ability to pick the length early. It allows him to be decisive in his footwork. “This is a special talent. This is something that impressed me at first sight,” Sinha said.
There were 10 fours and two sixes in Pant’s innings; all cleanly struck. The youngster also has the gift of timing. He was expected to reach three figures after having a let off on 70, when Zia Akbar dropped a sitter at mid-on. But he fell 13 short. The young man didn’t look happy with the decision. The ball appeared to have pitched outside the leg stump.
He will get many more opportunities to score centuries in the future but for the moment, maybe, Pant needs to cut down on his aggression. “Yes, he’s perhaps a little too aggressive for his age. I’ve spoken to him about this. And now that he’s under Rahul Dravid, things would be taken care of,” Sinha said.
Pant himself is very willing to lap up the privilege. “Training has become very specific under Rahul sir. We are very clear about our roles and the method is helping.”
After Pant guided India to 236 in 50 overs, a left-arm medium pacer from Tonk, Rajasthan ensured that victory was achieved. Khaleel Ahmed, son of a male nurse, struggled to find his rhythm in his first spell. Afghanistan made a good start with openers Hazratullah Zazai and Ihsanullah Janat playing well. A decent contingent of Afghans, all local residents, assembled outside the boundary ropes and was offering vocal support. But Ahmed returned for his second spell, mixed it up with the older ball and outsmarted Zazai and Nasir Omar in quick succession.
Ahmed came back for his final spell when Rashid Arman was threatening to take the game away from India. The latter had earlier taken four wickets with his fastish leg-spin. For a brief while, it looked like he was going to steal a march. But Ahmed removed him before cleaning up Mohammad Sardar Wali.
The official scorer had erred in calculation and awarded only two for the bowler in the right-hand column. Ahmed looked a little demoralised initially but correction brought a smile back on his face.
“I’ve come through a lot of hardships. I want to make this opportunity count,” the 17-year-old said.
Brief scores: India U-19 236 all out in 50 overs (R Pant 87; R Arman 4/47) beat Afghanistan U-19 203 all out in 47.3 overs (R Arman 43; K Ahmed 4/41) by 33 runs