SO HYPERBOLIC have been his achievements and the plaudits that’ve followed them in the last few months that it’s understandable if many thought Rishabh Pant was ‘too good to be true’. That yes, he had scored all those runs and that too at a breakneck pace, but he still couldn’t be that good could he? On Thursday, the left-hander wasn’t up against a Ranji Trophy attack. This was England. And up against Pant were the likes of Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Jake Ball, all of whom had spearheaded England’s bowling attack during the Test series last month. These were world-class bowlers, and this was the closest he’d come to the world stage yet, at the senior level anyway.
And for the brief period he spent at the crease at the CCI, during which he plundered 59 runs of 36 balls, Pant showed that probably he was that good. For, Pant not only held centre-stage but while he was around, it didn’t seem matter what was happening around him. He overshadowed all of it, including a crucial and fluent 91 from Ajinkya Rahane, who showed that he was ready to take back his place in the Indian team.
This isn’t to say that Rahane had anything to prove to anyone when he walked out to bat on Thursday afternoon in pursuit of 283, the target that England had set for India A. It was a freak blow to his glove while facing throwdowns from Raghu next door at Wankhede Stadium that had laid waste to his series against England. He’d watched from the sidelines as India not only crushed England in the last two Tests but also seen Karun Nair, his replacement, score a triple-century in Chennai. In fact, it was Rahane who himself had contacted the selectors, wanting to play one of the two practice games against England to get some match time under his belt prior to the ODI series.
But that he spent a majority of India A’s innings in the middle and also played a huge role in his team’s win will go a long way in him regaining his confidence.
His might not have been a blitz like Pant’s, but Rahane did bully the English attack from the very start. He struck Woakes for three overs in only the 5th of the innings. In the next over a short wide ball from David Willey was upper cut in characteristic fashion over the point boundary for six. From that point on, Rahane was away. He found good company in Sheldon Jackson at the top and the openers made easy work of quelling England’s challenge with the new-ball. Rahane did have to play second fiddle while Pant stole the show. Eventually he fell nine runs short of a deserved century, being bowled by a yorker from Willey.
A crowded middle order
Whether his match-winning knock would have enhanced his chances of getting into the final XI at Pune remains to be seen. It’s a crowded middle-order all of a sudden, especially with the return of Yuvraj Singh. With No.1-4 taken and Kedar Jadhav likely to play the bits-and-pieces all-rounder role at No.6, Rahane might well have to wait a while before regaining his place in the XI in the ODI setup. There’s also Manish Pandey waiting in the wings to boot. But he couldn’t have done better to send a strong message to the selectors and the team management that he is in fact ready.
It wasn’t still as strong a message as the one Pant was sending which well-struck boundary though. While Pant’s innings was like a blitz, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a knock laced with wild striking. It was themed on the ‘see-ball, hit-ball’ philosophy. But amidst all the mayhem, he did show glimpses of cricket smartness, be it with the use of his crease or even in the way he pushed the fielders manning the boundary while running between the wickets. The boundaries, and the audacity attached with each one of them, obviously stood out though.
Pant’s innings started with a charge down to Ali and missing the ball. But he wasn’t deterred from repeating the shot on numerous occasions thereafter. He then took on the towering Ball in one over, and this is where his brazen aggression came to the fore. He hit the seamer for three fours before pulling a short of length delivery over the square-leg fence to bring up his fifty. He wasn’t done yet. In the next over from Ali he charged down and this time connected well enough to clear long-on for his second six of his innings. But his attempt at repeating the blow came a cropper and he holed out to Alex Hales at long-on. But by then he had made quite an impression already for everyone to sit up and take notice.
Brief scores: England XI 282 in 48.5 overs (Jonny Bairstow 64, Alex Hales 51, Pervez Rasool 3/38, Shahbaz Nadeem 2/41) lost to India A 283 for four in 39.4 overs (Ajinkya Rahane 91, Rishabh Pant 59, Sheldon Jackson 59) by six wickets.