There was a massive furore in cricketing circles after aggressive wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant perished for a three-ball duck against South Africa in the second innings of the Johannesburg Test. After being unsettled by a vicious short delivery from Kagiso Rabada, Pant charged down the track next ball and tried to slog the South African pacer aimlessly. But, instead, all the left-hander managed was a nick that the keeper gleefully grabbed.
Following his dismissal, many cricket pundits questioned Pant’s careless approach. Batting legend Sunil Gavaskar, who was on commentary, lashed out at the youngster and said, “Forgettable, no excuses for that shot, no excuses. None of that nonsense about that being his natural game. There is supposed to be a bit of responsibility shown.”
While Gavaskar’s sentiments were echoed by many, another former India cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar was among the few who backed Pant, stating that it is just the way he plays. According to Manjrekar, the 24-year-old is appreciated when he gets runs in the same manner, and so the team management must be prepared to take the bad stuff as well.
Too early to criticize
While one can understand the frustration of Indian fans and former cricketers, it is too early to be over-critical of Pant at this point. This is the same cricketer who has played three brilliant Test knocks for India over the last year or so, two of them coming in match-winning causes. First, Pant’s terrific innings in Sydney gave India confidence to save the match against all odds. Then, at the Gabba, he came out all guns blazing and fired India to a historic win. Finally, back in India, he flayed the England attack en route to a high-quality hundred under challenging batting conditions and with India in trouble.
What’s common to all these knocks is that Pant came out and went on the attack from the word go. Had one of his aggressive strokes landed in the hands of a fielder early in the innings, the legend of Pant might not have been born at all. But, as they say, fortune favors the brave. And so, Pant got away to a start, and the rest is history. Pant attempted something similar in Johannesburg, but it did not come off. Who knows what might have happened had the ball gone in the gap and sped to the boundary or over the ropes. We will never know!
Pant too predictable?
While over-the-top reactions to Pant’s dismissals might sound a bit premature, it cannot be denied that the youngster needs to fine-tune his game a bit. But, of course, one cannot ask him to cut down his aggression. That would be akin to cutting off the blood supplies to his batting. But former Pakistan captain Salman Butt made an interesting observation when he pointed out that Pant has become too predictable. The way he bats, it is almost a given that he will step out at least once in a premeditated fashion. And bowlers are very much prepared for it now.
When Pant was new to international cricket, there was this mystery factor about him. Opponents knew he was aggressive but couldn’t plan in advance to deal with the threat that he was about to pose. There is only so much one can prepare for by observing video footage and other technology. However, now that the bowlers and opposition are aware of the Pant threat, the ball is the wicketkeeper-batter’s court. He has to work out a way to deal with the challenge thrown at him.
It is a fact that Pant is struggling for runs. The southpaw has looked out of sorts since the start of the World Test Championship (WTC) final. He has got himself into a rut. Pant needs to rediscover his mojo and utilize his attacking instincts in a refined manner.