When Rishabh Pant first made his presence felt as a swashbuckling hitter of the cricket ball, it was believed that he was tailor-made for the white-ball formats of the game. But just like the case with Virender Sehwag before him, he has inexplicably failed to deliver in limited-overs cricket. And much like Sehwag, he has enjoyed much better success in Test cricket. If we compare Pant’s record in Test cricket with that in white-ball cricket, it is like chalk and cheese.
After 30 Tests, the left-hander averages a healthy 40.85, having scored 1920 runs with four hundreds. In comparison, he has played 24 ODIs and has a below-par average of 32.50. But, it is his T20I numbers that are most shocking. Having played 48 games, he has 741 runs at an average of 23.15 and a strike rate of 123.91. It’s not like Pant has been batting lower in the order. In fact, for quite a while, he has been batting as high as No. 4. Despite having all the strokes in the book to succeed in the T20 format, he had an abysmal IPL 2022 campaign for the Delhi Capitals (DC) and an even poorer run in the home series against South Africa, for which he was the stand-in captain.
Inability to counter opposition plans
The most puzzling aspect of Pant’s performance during the T20I series against South Africa at home was that the Proteas employed the same plan for the left-handed batter game after game, and Pant fell in the same trap match after match. The bowlers, left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj in particular, teased Pant with balls wide outside off stump, so far away that the deliveries would have been adjudged wide had he left them alone. Basic cricketing knowledge will tell a batter that he wouldn’t be able to meet such a wide ball with the middle of the bat. Pant would have been aware of the same for sure.
Did his ego get the better of him, then? One is not quite sure. Perhaps, that is an unfair assessment considering Pant is a genuinely dedicated cricketer. At the same time, it cannot be denied that he was caught napping with his lack of stroke-making options once the South African bowlers figured out how to bowl to him. His similar dismissals were symbolic of Pant’s inability to come up with a counter plan, which was surprising since the southpaw has an excellent array of strokes in his armory.
Not only during the T20I series against South Africa, but even in the preceding IPL, he was dismissed in a rather ungainly fashion more than once. The other sides, including Ireland – India’s next opponents – would have seen Pant’s struggles outside the off-stump. With the T20 World Cup coming up and Dinesh Karthik’s resurgence as a finisher, the young left-hander has a tough challenge on hand. There is definitely a problem with his batting, and he needs to work out a way by coordinating closely with head coach Rahul Dravid and batting coach Vikram Rathour.
Keep him away from captaincy
Another reason behind his batting woes could be the additional responsibility of captaincy. Both in the IPL and during the series against South Africa, he seemed burdened by the pressure of leadership. Of course, he is still very young and inexperienced as a captain, and it is too early to pass judgment on his leadership. But one thing has been clear – he is not a natural leader.
In the two seasons that he has led the Delhi Capitals (DC), as well as during the series against the Proteas, his lack of tactical acumen has come to the fore. Of course, he can definitely learn and improve with experience. Given his impressive attitude and willingness to get better, he should be a better captain in years to come. But now is not the right time to burden him with leadership, even on a short-term basis. The first priority should be to ensure the best of Pant comes to the fore in white-ball cricket.