Time to reshape Rishabh Pant’s T20 batting approach

Published on Nov 20, 2022 12:24 AM IST

Outstanding in Tests and very effective in ODIs, the wicketkeeper-batter will be a fit in India’s T20 playing eleven if he rectifies his foot movement to avoid miscuing shots

Rishabh Pant in action for Team India.(ANI) PREMIUM
Rishabh Pant in action for Team India.(ANI)

There’s a reason why the Indian team management is not giving up on Rishabh Pant as a T20 player despite the 25-year-old taking time to make an impact. His ODI figures are proof that he cracks different challenges with time. According to CricViz data, from 2018 to 2020 his ODI average against pace was 32.3 (strike rate 105.7). It is 19.3 and 99.1 against spin.

He has been a different player though since 2021. His average against pace is 42.8 (SR 112.2) Against spin, it shoots up to 104.5 (SR 114.8). In 2018-20, his average in 16 matches was 26.7 (SR 103.6). From 2021 to 2022, in the 11 games he has played, the average is 51.8 (SR 113.4).

His last ODI innings was a 113-ball 125* at old Trafford that led India’s successful chase of 260 from 72/4, after losing the wickets of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav.

For such a talented stroke-maker, T20 should be a natural fit. But surprisingly, unlike the surge in ODI since 2021, it has gone the other way in T20s. After 2016-19, his T20 numbers slipped in all parameters, especially against spin. His strike rate against off-spin dropped to 106.7 and that against leg-spin fell to 122.1. From 2016 to 2019 though the corresponding numbers were 143.4 and 159.9.

Of late, Pant has struggled against left-arm pacers too, his strike rate dropping to 122.8 post 2020. Before that it was 165.2.

He lost his place in the starting XI to Dinesh Karthik at the T20 World Cup. As India look to re-build for the next edition after an underwhelming run in Australia, Pant has competition for the keeper-batter role--Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan. Still, he remains the first-choice for now as everyone knows the havoc he can cause once he cracks the T20 batting code. He has been sensational in Tests with classic knocks at Sydney (97), Brisbane (89*), Ahmedabad (101), Cape Town (100) and Birmingham (146) in 2021-22.

The team management should promote Pant in the order, feels former India opener Wasim Jaffer. “The best place for him is at the top of the order," says Jaffer, Punjab Kings batting coach with long IPL experience.

"He should open as and when there is an opportunity. The Pant we see in Tests and ODIs, the knocks he has played, we haven’t seen that consistency because he bats at No 5. That means when he comes to bat the field is spread. It is not easy in T20s that you come and start hitting boundaries and sixes.

“He no doubt a match-winner. If he gets going in the powerplay, then we can get the best out of him in T20s. If he gets a start then it won’t matter if the field goes back. This way we can use him. Being a left-hander means the team has a right-left combination. If he gives you a good start, he is such an attacking player that after six overs he can be more dangerous. If the opposition has a leg-spinner or a left-arm spinner, being a left-hander, he can upset their plan.”

MATURITY MATTERS

“People get matured as they play, some mature late. Surya is batting so well now at 32, he also made the same mistakes earlier. But he is mature now," says Lalchand Rajput, who was manager of the 2007 T20 World Cup-winning squad and was a coach with Mumbai Indians.

“Pant is only 25, give him one year. That is why he should have played all the World Cup matches, he would have got maturity for the next one. If you are pulling him in and out the confidence won’t be there and he starts doubting his game. Then he will lose his naturel game. That is how Virender Sehwag used to play. We used to tell him “you go and express yourself”. Out of 10 games, if you win four or five matches, I am happy. Nobody is going to give you 100% result," said Rajput.

Pant had taken to the T20 format very well in IPL--in 2018, he got 684 runs at a S/R of 173.60. But it is apparent the bowlers have figured out a gameplan against him. In T20, the batter coming later in the innings is under pressure to hit out. Not giving him anything in his range is the formula. They focus on bowling wide outside off and often we see him mistime to be caught.

“He favours the leg-side. His playing style is slightly unusual--square-leg, behind square are his preferred areas. We have seen that with Surya also, but Yadav also hits in the front of the wickets. I feel Pant has to develop that shot (or) teams will target him by bowling there won’t give him pace, and bowl wide outside off to him. I think, he will have to improve his game in this area, in T20 as well as in one-day cricket because in ODIs he bats at 4 and 5 so this situation will come," said Jaffer.

Rajput, now the technical director of Zimbabwe Cricket, says: “The root cause is his leg always going straight. Anything wider, he has to reach for the ball. Once his foot goes towards the line of the ball it will become easier to reach the ball and execute shots wherever he wants. When he plays away from the ball, he doesn’t have the power, and mistimes and skies the ball.”

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