Just another Pant masterclass
Pant's 111-ball 146 helped India fightback from a precarious position of Day 1 against England.
Flung around for much of the IPL and the T20I series against South Africa in June was a frankly vain statistic—that Rishabh Pant hadn’t scored a fifty since February.
However, watching Pant flaunt his true colours at gloomy Edgbaston, in the able company of Ravindra Jadeja, might make you want to reconsider the bleak suggestions cold, hard numbers tend to convey. Class can’t be quantified and Pant just reaffirmed that with a brazen 111-ball 146.
For all their bravado in opting to field because they like chasing, England’s bowlers failed to read Pant’s restive batting as a deliberate ploy to mess with them.
A reverse-lap shot off James Anderson unnerved England as devastatingly as Pant’s infamous one-handed six—Jack Leach being at its receiving end this time—before Joe Root saw his attempted bouncer being pulled for a boundary.
Six bowlers were deployed to dislodge Pant, many came close too but Pant continued to stick to his game. There were ferocious cuts, authoritative punches and glorious cover drives but equally telling were some body blows that forced the physio to check on him several times.
Early on, though, it was a different story. India had pushed themselves into trouble as Anderson rolled back the years and Matt Potts blasted through ironclad defences. Caught slip, bowled Anderson is a common mode of dismissal when Birmingham gets overcast and the 40-year old seamer had no problem extracting edges of stand-in openers Shubman Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara.
Picking up from where he had left in the New Zealand series, Potts first trapped Hanuma Vihari leg-before before luring Virat Kohli into a drive that he tried to pull out of the last second and ended up playing back onto his stumps. Shreyas Iyer gone for 15 with India on 98/5, India were quickly doomed to a paltry score at a venue with an average of more than 300 in the first innings.
Enter Pant and the narrative changed… at T20 speed. Reaching his fifty off 51 balls, and then his fifth Test century off 89 balls—making him the Indian wicketkeeper with the fastest hundred, he orchestrated a counterattack so stunning that England were forced to go on the defensive and almost wait for him to err.
By the time he did—edging to Zak Crawley at slip, trying to send Root to the cleaners—India had added 222 runs for the sixth wicket. Going at over 4.5 runs throughout the day to end on 338/7, India still have Jadeja (83*) to fall back on for some quick runs on Day 2 and turn the screws even tighter on England.
The fault is entirely England’s though, letting up on their channels the moment Pant started treating it with contempt. Not only did it allow Pant to build on his confidence, it also helped him dictate the bowling and pulverise it into submission.
Anderson, always a class act in these conditions, pulled back his length once he found the fuller balls weren’t getting enough carry. But he, too, was forced to come around the wicket after Pant skipped down the pitch and clobbered him for a four. Potts was all good length to Kohli, till he finally pitched it fuller and got him. No such luck with Pant though. He might scramble around the crease, skip down the pitch and take his bottom hand off the grip at times but at his core beats the heart of a traditionalist, eager to drive, punch and beat the man at point.
Pant drilled him through covers before punching him past point for two boundaries in the 45th over. Two more boundaries later, Potts was regularly straying down the leg. Unconventional but effective, Pant biffed along to his fifty and was almost dismissive in the four off Leach that got him within two runs of his hundred while tipping him over.
Offering Leach’s left-arm spin to Pant anyway wasn’t good ploy from England. Case in point was the three-ball discourse in Leach’s second over of the day that showed why Pant can be so destructive against spin bowling. First ball, he came down the pitch and lifted Leach through long-off for four. Next ball, back of a length, was pulled past square leg for another four.
Alarmed, Leach tossed up the next ball but Pant again skipped down the pitch and hit over his head for a six to bring up the fifty-run stand with Jadeja. This was India doing to England what England had done to New Zealand just a few days back and if anything, England should get it better than most.