“This is the biggest thing in my life right now,” an emotional Rishabh Pant said while receiving the man-of-the-match award on Tuesday. In the last two years, no one in Indian cricket has been subject to the kind of vilification Pant has endured. With the match-winning unbeaten 89, he set the Gabba and world cricket alight. But he also did set a record straight.
His dismissal in the 2019 World Cup semifinal had become a reference point for his critiques. MS Dhoni’s retirement meant he was expected to live up to the lofty standards of finishing games. Every time he failed to do so, the knives would come out. On Tuesday, he finished a game that will go down as one of the best in the history of Test cricket. For all his flamboyance, typical of the T20 generation, Pant has always yearned for success in Test cricket.
“He was a bit depressed because of the way he got out after he got set in the World Cup semifinal. He realized he missed out on an opportunity to do something memorable,” his childhood coach Tarak Sinha told TOI on Tuesday. “Even after his knock in Sydney last week, he said he regretted not carrying on and finishing the job.”
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There was an underlying restlessness in Indian cricket to see him filling the void created by Dhoni. He was panned for sticking to his ‘natural’ game. All of it started playing in his mind. It was as if he had no place in the team if he couldn’t finish games. Then the team management accused him of not knowing the difference between being carefree and careless.
This is when Pant tried to alter his game. “He kept saying he has to become a finisher. He became conscious about getting out. It meant he lost his bat swing and that resulted in him losing his natural ability to hit big,” Sinha said. Last year, Sinha and fellow coach at Sonnet Devendra Sharma arranged hitting sessions for him to rediscover his bat swing. “We kept telling him to take one Test at a time. Set short targets for himself but do not sacrifice your game of hitting big,” Sinha added.
Within two months of the ‘careless’ comment, Pant slowly lost his place in all three formats. It was a lonely walk to redemption for him. The little tip seems to be paying off. Skipper Ajinkya Rahane and head coach Ravi Shastri implied that Pant was always determined to hunt down the target and the team let him be. Perhaps, the team management has come around and taken the leash of expectations off him.
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Rishabh Pant unleashed a Twenty20-style batting assault to blast India to an incredible three-wicket win in the fourth Test decider on Tuesday. (Getty Images)
On Tuesday, Team India head coach Ravi Shastri described Pant as a ‘good listener’. “He realizes what’s his natural game. But he needs to strike a balance between caution and aggression. Nobody wants to curb his natural game as a coach but you can be reckless sometimes. This game teaches you to learn and he has shown it in both the Test matches. He was disappointed that he got out for 97 in Sydney. He learnt from that and he made sure he was there at the end today,” Shastri said.
It’s not that he didn’t miscue his heaves on Tuesday. He plays a high-risk game but that’s how his game is built. Pant claims he had to discipline himself when it came to shot selection because of the tricks the fifth day pitch played.
It’s a given he will play heart-in-the-mouth, edge-of-your-seat cricket. He is now willing to play the uninhibited brand of cricket irrespective of the consequences. Perhaps, it’s time he is embraced for what he is. Tuesday’s knock is exactly the reason why the legends of the game across the world want to see more of him. It’s time to build trust. This Test series was a small but a significant step towards that.