A Virender Sehwag tweet is the equivalent of a testimonial these days. At 19, Rishabh Pant is the youngest to get one. Pant knows the tweet’s significance. “When Viru paa has tweeted about you, you know you have done something right,” Pant told HT from Delhi, a day before he was to leave for Kolkata for their Ranji Trophy match against Karnataka.
Pant made his Ranji debut against Bengal exactly a year ago. In 12 months, he has logged numbers that indicate there is something special about him.
In 11 one-dayers played in the under-19 level, Pant’s scores were 51, 26, 4, 71, 35, 6, 57, 78, 111, 14 and 1. The day he got his maiden century , against Namibia in the World Cup, Pant was picked for a hefty Rs 1.9 crore by the Delhi Daredevils at the IPL auctions. None of his U-19 mates selected in the IPL got past the base mark of Rs 10 lakhs.
In the four Ranji Trophy matches he has played so far, Pant has already scored a fifty (57 against Bengal), a big hundred (146 against Assam) and now, a triple century (308) that almost brought Delhi close to Maharashtra’s mammoth first innings of 635.
Something about these records suggest this wicket-keeper batsman is close to exploding on to the scene any day. But unlike some of us in the media on the hunt for the next big thing, Pant doesn’t think too far ahead. Ask him a question that’s a little longer perhaps and Pant shoots back saying ‘bhaiya woh last line samajh nahi aayi’ (I didn’t understand that last line). After meandering his way through Roorkee and Rajasthan before finally settling in Delhi, Pant likes to keep his life clean and simple, with a crystal-clear attitude towards batting --- if it’s in my zone, I will hit it.
“I don’t think much but I do set targets for myself. My job is to score runs and I will try to do that only,” said Pant. “I always wanted to score a double hundred in Ranji Trophy because I had never done that.” But isn’t this only your second Ranji Trophy, one asked. “I know. But I had never scored a 200 in my junior career as well. So it was always top of my bucket list,” he said.
Asked what his next target is, Pant refuses to divulge it. “I will only tell it once I have done it. That target is only known to me,” he said. Ask him how he planned his latest innings and even Pant doesn’t know how he got to a triple hundred. “The pitch was good, the ball was coming on to the bat. So I batted. I reached 100, then 150, then 200. I just batted on,” he said.
If it sounds too good to be true, Pant’s confession about being more alert in the 90s is confirmation that he isn’t one of those batsmen who ‘don’t think about closing in on a landmark’. “Of course I become a little aware of the situation. I tend to concentrate more when I am near a hundred,” said Pant.
Keeping wickets makes concentrating for long periods easy for Pant. But he isn’t willing to defend too long for no reason. “You have to decide when to defend and when to attack. I won’t defend against a loose ball. It’s about the process, not the result. That is what sir (the famed Tarak Sinha of Sonnet Club) told me,” he said.
Pant has been lucky with his coaches too. Not only did he get Sinha in his formative years, Pant also got Rahul Dravid as his U-19 coach and then as mentor when he was with Delhi Daredevils this year. “You can’t ignore Rahul sir’s significance. But I try to imbibe different things from different people. With Rahul sir, it’s his discipline. With Viru paa, it’s his aggression,” said Pant.
When it comes to aggression, though, Pant seems most smitten by Virat Kohli. “Virat bhai’s aggression is something I admire. I like his energy level. The way bhaiya pushes himself is amazing. We tell ourselves that if he can score consistently at that level, why can’t we do the same in domestic cricket? That’s a different motivation altogether,” he said.