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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Rishabh Pant won’t change, people will learn to accept him for what he is: Mohammad Kaif

Delhi Capitals assistant coach on Rishabh Pant, the wicketkeeper batsman he watched closely during IPL 2020.

Written by Mohammad Kaif |
Updated: January 12, 2021 9:55:45 am
At No.5, Pant made 97 off just 118 deliveries. (Source: AP)

I wasn’t surprised to see Rishabh Pant promoted to No.5. It was because he was pushing for the win that we could end up with this magnificent draw. When he walked out to bat, my mind went to the 2020 IPL final. He was sitting in the dugout that night when we, as the coaching group, decided to promote him up the order even though he wasn’t in great touch in that tournament. It was an instinctive decision and when (head coach) Ricky Ponting told him, “Rishabh, pad up, you are next”, he didn’t show any surprise or nerves. No quizzical look of “me?” He nodded, put on his pads, sat outside and started to chat away. And then went in and played his best knock of the tournament, like how big-match players tend to do. Some batsmen need to be prepared a day before. With Pant, I felt the lesser the time you gave him and didn’t make it sound as if it’s a big deal, the better it is. He went in, took a few balls to settle in and then went for it. Just like he did in this Test.

When he was in, you didn’t notice it was a fifth-day pitch, you didn’t think about the rough that Nathan Lyon was trying to hit. You didn’t worry that he was cutting and pulling the Australian pacers. It’s his way of showing the opposition that he isn’t overawed by a bowler or the pitch. That he will do what he wants. I remember an IPL game at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai where he went after Jasprit Bumrah with some astonishing swat-flicks. The ball kept flying over square-leg. I haven’t seen anyone treat Bumrah like that. Pant did because he can. It’s not arrogance but a kind of a batting-ego that batsmen like him have. ‘Why should I take a single just because I am in the 90s? Why should I defend just because it’s Bumrah? I will play my game.’ Lesser batsmen can’t think like that. Pant is Pant because he thinks like that. He is a special batsman. Of course, he isn’t as consistent as people want him to be but believe me, that will come as he matures. He is 23, a batsman of immense flair who will produce dreamy knocks like this every 4-5 innings.

After the IPL, he didn’t play a game for a month, just watched his team-mates play limited-overs games in Australia. Then at the first opportunity in a warm-up game, he hits a hundred. He didn’t play in the first Test and in the second, scored 29 but it was only after his arrival that Ajinkya Rahane began to pick up the tempo. And then, now this. I feel Test cricket is his best format; he averages 50 in first-class cricket, has a triple hundred. The Indian team knows it, that’s why they are giving him the space to grow in Tests.

He grew as a person during the last IPL. It was a very tough three months for him. He hadn’t seen a phase like that before. IPL was his domain. It was evident that the lack of runs hurt him, left him a bit embarrassed, perhaps. He felt he had let his team down, knew what his team expected from him, and had never failed in the IPL. This was something new.

His response to failures revealed his character. Failures make you think. Self-reflect. Brain torture, as they say. He did that. For a couple of months, subah-shaam, he worked at his game. Of course, he would take the occasional breaks to see if that helps. He tried everything. He talked about wishing to open the innings.

In the past, because he hadn’t seen such failures, there was no need for him to try out things. He did that now, would listen to Ponting talk about bat-lift. Or my suggestion to try relaxing the shoulder in the stance and loosen the bottom-hand grip. He would try it out at nets. He can give the impression he isn’t listening, but he does.

He isn’t someone on whom coaches spend too much time giving gyaan. A little word here and there in informal situations and he is set. During the IPL, after a couple of senior-group meetings, he excused himself. Perhaps, all the detailed talk of strengths and analysis of opposition players didn’t sit well with him. Some players like those deep dives. For Pant, it must have seemed like giving too much unnecessary respect! Off the field, he is a fun character. Someone who enjoys being with a group of people. He liked to sit by the pool, chat, laugh.

Just as I wasn’t surprised by his promotion or the way he batted; I wasn’t surprised by his dismissal too. The glory shot is his way to show the opposition that he isn’t going to be cowed down by the situation – of personal hundreds or the state of the match. One thing is certain, there will be more knocks like this. He won’t compromise his attacking game. He won’t change, people around him will and learn to accept him for what he is: a free-flowing attacker who can win Test matches for India.

(As told to Sriram Veera)

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