Shaking off the rust, Pant enters the selection ring | Crickit
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Shaking off the rust, Pant enters the selection ring

By, Mumbai
Apr 01, 2024 02:55 PM IST

In his first fifty after the long layoff, Pant exhibited many of his trademark strokes, as well as his strength of mind

“Aap comparison kyon kar rahe ho? I youngster. Comparison hona hi nahi chahiye na? (Why are you comparing. I am a youngster. There shouldn't be a comparison?) Somebody has played 5 matches; somebody has played 500. I would go back to my room and cry,” Rishabh Pant’s straightforward articulation of his mental ordeal when comparisons with the great MS Dhoni were piling up the pressure gave a glimpse of the pressures that entail the well-paid job of being an up-and-coming India cricketer.

Delhi Capitals' captain Rishabh Pant plays a shot.(PTI)
Delhi Capitals' captain Rishabh Pant plays a shot.(PTI)

What Pant had told Star Sports before his injury comeback; he may want to remind them again when they flashed a live fan-poll during the Chennai Super Kings-Delhi Capitals broadcast on Sunday. “If you had to pick one wicket-keeper, who would you pick? 21 percent picked Pant. The rest Dhoni.

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Fortunately for Pant, his days of breaking through Dhoni’s shadow are now limited to IPL. He himself has 100 IPL matches to his belt by now. On Sunday night, when most of the 30,000 strong Visakhapatnam crowd had come out in Dhoni’s support, he managed to spoil their party with an eye-catching fifty.

In his third match after the long layoff, with his 32-ball 51 that contained many of his trademark strokes, Pant has re-established his claim for an international return. This would have been unimaginable even a month ago, when the Capitals’ were not sure if Pant would be able to keep wickets. Well, he has. And without any complaints of pain.

The national selectors have to pick India’s T20 World Cup squad in less than a month’s time and wicket-keeper batter is one spot which remains wide open. KL Rahul isn’t fully injury-free yet. Jitesh Sharma hasn’t had a bright start to the IPL. And Sanju Samson continues to push his case.

For Pant though, the grace period where the overriding sentiment was simply to rejoice watching him take baby steps on return to action from his life-threatening injury may be slowly getting over.

Pant’s fifty was of two halves and revealed a lot about his current form. It also spoke about his strength of mind. For the first 23 balls he faced, the left-hander went run-a-ball. It wasn’t that he was biding time. He tried a scoop early, even attempted a reverse hit. Before his one-handed six came off, there was another one he tried and hit the ball so hard, the bat fell off his hands and he managed only a single from the mishit.

“I took my time initially because I haven't played much cricket in the last one and a half years, so I thought I've to give myself enough time," Pant said. "...but at the same time I kept believing that I could change the match.”

When Pant was on 17, pacer Tushar Deshpande bowled one wide outside off, which the left-hander threw a kitchen sink to. His top hand was off the bat handle; he appeared to be in no position, but the ball had raced away to the deep point boundary. Like you know with Virat Kohli that he’s getting into the act when a bottom-handed cover drive comes off. With Pant, you know when his one-handed bat swings start finding the boundaries.

When the Delhi dasher changed gears, he was able to take care of Mustafizur Rehman’s slower balls as well as Matheesha Pathirana’s speeding yorkers. Against Rehman, he brought on the one-handed pull. Against Pathirana’s attempted yorker, he brought out the helicopter.

"Pathirana had come off an excellent over before, so quite rightly he was lining up the wickets. There are not many in the world who can do that. It showed that Pant has still got a lot of natural flair and that he played really well,” CSK head coach Stephen Fleming said.

Pant will still take some time before the rust is fully shaken off. And his T20I numbers (66 matches, 987 runs, SR 126.37) aren’t very flattering. In the 2022 T20 World Cup, he played in only 2 matches. In the 2021 World Cup edition, he played all 5, but managed only 78 runs at a SR of 125.8.

Still, for his unorthodoxy and ability to find angles in the field others can’t, Pant will always remain a tempting option. Indian captain Rohit Sharma often says much before Bazball there was Rish-ball.

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