Rishabh Pant administers the laughter sledge in tense MCG Test
When Rishabh Pant was picked for the Boxing Day Test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it signalled two things—India wanted to boost their batting after a record low 36 in the first Test and add a left-hander in the top six to try and put the formidable Australia pace attack off rhythm.
He contributed a useful 29 off 40 deliveries in one of the crucial partnerships with stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane. His wicket-keeping is still a work in progress—R Ashwin only showed mild annoyance after Pant dropped Pat Cummins—but the 23-year-old scores big in keeping up energy levels with constant chatter from behind the stumps, in contrast to Wriddhiman Saha, the better and quieter ‘keeper.
After every delivery, especially if the batsman is beaten or forced to leave, Pant goes “he, he, he, he” from behind the stumps. Australia are, of course, the premier sledgers in world cricket, though this series has been unusually placid and friendly.
“This series is too friendly,” ex-Australia cricketer Kerry O’Keeffe joked while doing TV commentary during the ODIs. “We need an incident. Everybody is smiling, come on!”
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan feels the camaraderie is a byproduct of the IPL. “I just think we’re in a different era of the game,” he said on Cricbuzz Live. “...most of the Australian team are teammates with the Indian players through the IPL franchises, and I think that’s made a massive difference in the world game, these franchise leagues.”
Monday, the third day of the MCG Test, finally saw some spicy exchanges as Australia struggled to save the game. First left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc began sending down a series of short, rising deliveries to rattle the set Ravindra Jadeja, finally forcing him to hole out to deep midwicket.
Starc exulted, going down on one knee with fists pumping. Jadeja, who had turned to walk off, faced the bowler with arms extended as if to ask, “what’s the fuss all about?”
There was proper banter when Australia batted in their second innings. After playing a Jasprit Bumrah delivery, makeshift opener Mathew Wade was irritated with Pant’s laughter routine. “He he he he,” Wade turned around mimicking Pant. “Looking at yourself on the big screen again?”
At one point, Wade took a dig at Pant’s weight. “You’re 25 kilos overweight...” the stump mic caught him saying.
“He just laughs all the time. He doesn’t really say much, he just always laughs at you. I don’t know what’s so funny, it must be my batting,” Wade said later while speaking to Fox Sports.
On the 2018-19 tour when India achieved a historic first Test series win in Australia, the friendly exchanges between home skipper Tim Paine and Pant were a source of entertainment.
It was at the MCG where Paine asked Pant if he would babysit his children as MS Dhoni had taken over ‘keeping duties, after Pant had taunted him as only a “temporary captain”.
“Tell you what big MS is back in the one-day squad,” Paine was caught on the stump mic as saying. “Should get this bloke down to (BBL team Hobart) Hurricanes…they need a batter. Fancy that...extend your Aussie holiday, beautiful town Hobart too... get him a waterfront apartment. Have him over for dinner. Do you babysit? I can take my wife to the movies while you watch the kids.”
Pant later posed for a picture with Paine’s wife and two young children, building on the babysitter theme.
“Well Rick (Ponting) knows him quite well — one, he’s very, very good, but two, we (thought)early in the series that sledging him was a waste of time. It just didn’t bother him, but what we found was that you could get a real lapse of concentration out of him so we went a bit that way,” Paine explained later.
Indian cricket fans are used to the “shabaash” from many wicketkeepers, including Kiran More, and Nayan Mongia’s “Aigaa” (Oh, no!). Pant has left everyone amused this time with his sneering laughter.
Australia, despite going 1-0 up in the series, are in no mood for laughter. They will be searching for action rather than words as India, even without Kohli and the injured Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, were in command of the second Test.