During Delhi’s previous Ranji Trophy encounter against Karnataka at Alur, Rishabh Pant, their stand-in captain, was batting on 41 and looked poised for a big haul. However, against the run of play, he played onto the stumps off-spinner K Gowtham’s quicker delivery. It was a rather tentative shot played by a batsman, who is known for his big-hitting prowess. You could term Pant’s dismissal at Alur as an aberration. But the 20-year-old would get dismissed in a fairly similar manner on the final day’s play at the Palam Ground ten days ago where Delhi beat Uttar Pradesh by four wickets. In pursuit of 252, Pant walked into bat with Delhi needing 70 runs. He got off to a pretty sedate start, collecting 26 runs from 33 deliveries. In partnership with Milind, the result looked like a foregone conclusion.
Inexplicably, Pant would once again play an innocuous shot to Uttar Pradesh’s left-arm spinner Mohammad Saif, only to see his stumps rattled. Pant’s untimely exit left the dressing-room a tad anxious, before a flurry of lusty hits from Navdeep Saini sealed the deal for Delhi.The twin dismissals aptly illustrates Pant’s current frame of mind, and it also showcases how underwhelming his current Ranji Trophy campaign has been. His 972 runs last season comprised a triple hundred, and three tons, which put him fourth in the list of highest run-getters.
In the three innings spanning two Ranji games this season, he has managed to register scores of 41, 30 and 26. The worrying trend in these three innings have been that he has managed to get off to decent starts, but has not managed to convert them into a substantial score. And in all these three essays, he got dismissed in under the most underwhelming circumstances. In the three unofficial ODIs against New Zealand A, he had scores of 2 ,1 and 67. His torrid run continued in the two tour games against New Zealand. Across formats, Pant has thus scored only a solitary half-century in his last eight outings this season.
Delhi coach KP Bhaskar, however, is not vexed by Pant’s tepid run in recent times. “Look, his style is not to simply block and graft. He is a natural stroke-maker, and once he gets going, he is going to get you those big hundreds, something he had done so well for us last Ranji season.”
Bhaskar is not off the mark in his assessment. Strangely enough, it’s this flair and belligerence that has eluded Pant this time around. Tarak Sinha, Pant’s childhood coach at Sonnet Cricket Club, reckoned he was playing far too tentatively in recent times, and thinking too much about the result rather than focusing on the process. “He is getting starts, but is not getting those big scores because I feel he is playing too tentatively. I don’t think there’s any technical deficiency in his game. Instead, I feel it’s more a mental issue. My advice to him is simple — ‘Free hoke khelo. Aage ka jyaada much socho.”
Sinha opined that the reason Pant was able to exert his dominance during the last Ranji season was because he was fresh from his exploits at the U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh. “He was full of confidence from the U-19 World Cup last season, and that clearly showed in the manner he took on the bowlers. Things are different this time around.
Expectations skyrocketed after the last Ranji season. He was drafted into the senior squad, but then he did not get a decent run to showcase his potential. This, I feel has dented his confidence somewhat,” Sinha added. After his break-through Ranji season last year, Pant would get selected for the T20s against England last year. He would lose his place in the side after a game each against England. In West Indies he played one T20. He would get drafted for the five ODIs against West Indies, but did not find a place in the playing XI, ending up warming the benches for the better part of that tour. “Mere hisaab se, usko ek ODI toh khilana chahiye tha. Usko select karte ho par khilate nahi,” he remarked.
The coach’s grouse may seem legitimate. Despite Pant’s inclusion, the Indian think-tank stuck to their tried-and-tested policy of playing with MS Dhoni. Perhaps, they were a tad unsure about the kind of role that Pant would fit into.
His big-hitting prowess meant he could be used as a middle-order batsman and retain Dhoni as a wicket-keeper. In the end, there would be little doubt who would eventually win this tussle between the ageing superstar and the young upstart.
“They should have made it clear from the beginning. If they felt that he (Pant) was not ready for international cricket, they should have asked him to concentrate on Ranji cricket,” he added. Going forward, Sinha exuded hope.” Woh bachha hain. It’s only a matter of time before he comes good.”
Ahead of Delhi’s upcoming Ranji Trophy encounter against Maharashtra at the Palam Ground, Pant looked refreshingly poised. “Every day is a new day…jo nikal gaya woh khatam,” he said.
Ishant boost for Delhi
Delhi’s knock-outs bid got a boost after the Indian team released Ishant Sharma, making him available for the Ranji Trophy encounter against Maharashtra, which begins at the Palam Ground on Thursday. “The Indian team has released Ishant as he is not part of the playing XI for the ongoing Test match against Sri Lanka in Kolkata. He should be arriving late in the evening, and will lead the team for tomorrow’s Ranji game against Maharashtra,” Delhi manager Shanker Saini said.