Rishabh Pant apparently has a similarity with Virender Sehwag. More than the geographic proximity – both are from Delhi – it’s about the early career paths of the two cricketers. When Sehwag made his ODI debut in 1999 — T20 didn’t exist then — he came with the reputation of being a marauder, with the purists questioning his ability for the long form. As it turned out, Sehwag became one of the all time greats in Indian cricket, defying convention and redefining Test match opening batsmanship.
Given his natural aggression, it is widely believed that Sehwag somewhat underachieved in white-ball cricket. Make no mistake, with 8,273 runs and 15 hundreds, including a double century, in 251 ODIs, Sehwag had a fantastic career in the short-form as well. But his Test average — 49.34 compared to 35.05 in the ODIs — is far better. To allow Sehwag open the innings in the short-form, then India captain Sourav Ganguly had even moved to No. 3. Ganguly is now Pant’s team advisor at Delhi Capitals.
Pant is basically a product of the IPL and India U-19 one-dayers. And when the national selectors drafted him into the Test side for the England tour last year, eyebrows had been raised. An injured Wriddhiman Saha’s pain was Pant’s gain and the youngster grabbed the opportunity with both hands. In nine Test matches since August last year, Pant has scored 696 runs including two overseas hundreds. It earned him a Rs 5-crore, Grade A, central contract.
It’s just the beginning, but as of now the 21-year-old has failed to replicate his Test success in the shorter formats despite having a game that looks tailor-made for white-ball cricket. He had a moderate T20I series in New Zealand followed by a couple of failures against Australia at home. In the two home ODIs against Australia also, when MS Dhoni decided to cool his heels, Pant failed to capitalise on his starts. The Mohali crowd booed him.
Pant started the ongoing IPL with a thunderous 78 not out off 27 balls against Mumbai Indians. But his form has dipped since. Does he try a little too hard in white-ball cricket, making things a tad complicated in the process? According to Delhi Capitals head coach Ricky Ponting though, Pant at times oversteps the speed limits.
“The thing you have to think about Rishabh in white-ball cricket is that he is such a competitor that sometimes he just gets to a little bit of the better of him you know. He wants to get things done quickly in the white-ball game. In the Test matches, he doesn’t quite do it so much,” the former Australia captain said, adding: “I mean, we know he can score quickly. But there’s not as much pressure on the score could be in Test matches there (run rate), isn’t it?”
While Ponting won’t ask the young Indian ‘keeper-batsman to change his game, he wants Pant to pace his innings in a way that when the last four overs arrive (in T20s), he is still there at the crease.
“I’m not going to curb the way he plays. I’m not going to tell him to slow down and settle down, because I know if he plays his best, he wins games for us. I want him to go out there with pure freedom and with no other thought in the back of his head other than trying to hit the ball for a six. We saw in Mumbai in the first game that; when it comes off you know we are going to win. But what we want from him, he has to understand that we need him batting in the last four overs in every game. He is our best batsman…” Ponting said.
The Capitals coach also had high praise for both Prithvi Shaw and Shreyas Iyer. About Shaw, he said: “I have seen him develop as a player. We took a bit of a punt on him in last year’s auction as a young guy that hadn’t played any T20 cricket. From the moment I saw him at trials, you just saw he was ready to play. He has shown that in the games that he played last year. He has shown glimpses of his brilliance so far in this tournament. I said to him after the KKR game that I was heartbroken he did not get a hundred as he deserved to get a hundred on that occasion.”
Praising his captain, Iyer, Ponting observed: “He is a terrific, terrific young man and a terrific player. He’ is a very determined young man. He is developing his leadership all the time. It’s a high pressure environment that he is working in. The IPL is a difficult place to play. He is doing a great job. I love working with him.”
A lot of water has flown under the Sydney Harbour Bridge since Michael Clarke had caught Sourav Ganguly at slip on the first bounce at the SCG in 2008, while then Australia captain Ponting signalled to umpire Mark Benson that the catch was clean. Ponting and Ganguly are now comrades-in-arms at Capitals. On Thursday, the ‘house owner’ – Ganguly is the CAB president – expectedly turned up at Eden Gardens in Delhi colours during the team’s net session. He inspected the pitch but there was no interaction with the curator. Later Ponting said: “Look he (Ganguly) has said all along that he expects it to be a very good pitch. The last couple of years the wicket has been exceptionally good here.
“I think that you know, the reason they have been so good, as the curators decided to leave it just a little bit more grass and they haven’t sort of spun as much. It has pretty good pace and bounce and the ball tends to swing a bit here as well because of the humid conditions.”
Tiwary, Gony on DC radar
Medium pacer Harshal Patel is out of the tournament after suffering a right arm fracture during Capitals’ match against Kings XI Punjab. Batsman Manjot Kalra has had niggle in his right arm and his availability is subject to a fitness test. It is learnt that Bengal Ranji team captain Manoj Tiwary and Punjab seamer Manpreet Gony, who went unsold at the auction, are on the Capitals’ radar. A decision is likely to be taken in a couple of days.