On Thursday, during a rigorous net session at Jadavpur University’s Salt Lake Campus ground, Rishabh Pant was focusing on one particular shot against the pacers – lofted drive over the bowler’s head or mid-off. It’s a very difficult shot to play, especially for an 18-year-old of relatively short stature. Pant, however, was timing the ball beautifully, getting the distance. Overall, he looked a batsman in fine fettle.
Pant carried forward the rhythm into the match against Afghanistan Under-19 and set up India’s fourth win on the spin in the tri-series with an excellent 98-ball 118 (14X4, 4X6) on Friday. He had scored 87 and 51 in the last two games.
Today he reached three figures. But more than the runs, it was his authority that attracted attention. Afghanistan colts at times offered freebies for fun and it was easy to get carried away. Pant had missed out on a hundred in the first leg fixture against the same opposition as he let his concentration slip. He was a lot more disciplined in his approach this time around. “Discipline is what I’m learning from Rahul sir, both in life and cricket,” Pant said after the match.
He played some very accomplished strokes. A couple of cover drives against Muslim Musa and Muhammad Zahir were absolutely gorgeous. Sixes to the straight boundary and over deep mid-wicket off left-arm spinner Tariq Stanikzai were even better. It was a facile contest, given that India had already qualified for the final. But Pant’s batting was a joy to watch.
But maybe he would like to spend more time against the spinners in the nets. His technique is good as he plays spin with the bat in front of the pad. Just that he has had a tendency to push at the ball rather than waiting for it. There was a half-chance on 48, when his forward push went uppishly back to bowler Rashid Arman. Someone more agile might have taken the catch but Arman was a tad slow to react. Pant needs to address the issue. Pant had a 186-run partnership (185 balls) with Virat Singh (71) for the second wicket to ensure India post the highest total of the tournament so far. And a victory target of 267 was always going to be out of Afghanistan’s reach.
That they could only manage 162 in reply was down to a frail-looking youngster from Lucknow who took his maiden five-for in international cricket. Zeeshan Ansari’s father Md Naeem Ansari runs a tailoring shop at Aliganj. No one in the Ansari household had ever played cricket before Zeeshan decided to take the plunge. His love for Shane Warne prompted him to become a wrist spinner. The process started under Gopal Singh at a local club before Zeeshan moved to the UPCA Cricket Academy and from there to the National Cricket Academy (NCA).
Today he bowled eight overs unchanged from the pavilion end and returned with 5/37. He tossed it up and teased the batters, outwitting them as they went for big shots. It was very good bowling, in front of two former India captains, Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. Young Zeeshan has already started to dream about the upcoming U-19 World Cup.
“I’m very excited about Bangladesh. The pitches there would assist the spinners… Can’t wait to have a bowl there,” he said. His immediate job will be to carry on the good work on Sunday, when India meet Bangladesh in the final.
Brief Scores: India Under 19 266/7 in 50 ovs (Rishab Pant 118, Virat Singh 71, Ricky Bhui 50; Muslim Musa 2/38, Muhammad Zahir 2/40) bt Afghanistan Under 19 162 in 28 overs (Naveed Obaid 63; Zeeshan Ansari 5/37) by 104 runs.