Rishabh Pant1
India's Rishabh Pant plays a shot on the second day of the fourth Test against England at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Motera on March 5, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Rishabh Pant is on strike. Don’t move. Why? You’ll miss his audacious strokeplay. The Indian wicketkeeper’s batting is a treat to watch. Much like Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in his early days. The bowling and the bowler’s reputation matters little for Pant, who has an absolute belief in his batting skills. Jimmy Anderson will vouch for that after the mauling in the fourth Test in Ahmedabad.

Pant was barely five years old when Anderson made his England debut. The Englishman developed into one of the finest pace bowlers in the modern era. Even at 38, he’s feared for his ability to swing the new ball and reverse-swing the old one. Pant doesn’t worry about being an addition to Anderson’s more than 600 scalps. He trusts his batting.

The assault on Anderson

That was evident on Friday (March 5, 2021), when Anderson was bowling England’s 83rd over. After long spells on a hot day, the England paceman must have been tiring, yet Anderson with the second new ball is a tough proposition. Not for young Pant. The left-hander stepped out to launch Anderson over mid-off and followed it up with a flat-batted shot through cover point. These were not bad deliveries. But Pant is no ordinary batsman.

More strokeplay followed. In Anderson’s next over, Pant reverse-swept a good length ball over the leaping first-slip fielder. You don’t play a lap-shot to Anderson. Not even Sehwag or Tendulkar would have done that. It was a shot that set Twitter alight.

Pant reminds me of Sehwag, in stature and strokeplay. Absolutely nonchalant, irrespective of the situation. The Sehwag streak was there when Pant reached his first hundred in India by slop-sweeping England captain Joe Root for a six. Even the prospect of a major milestone doesn’t seem to slow him down or persuade him to eschew risks.

Of late, there’s been a noticeable maturity in Pant’s approach. At 23, Pant could be forgiven for gifting his wicket after blazing away. He seems to have taken a leaf out of Rohit Sharma’s playbook. A watchful spell often precedes an explosive innings.

The gamechanging knock at Motera

India were 80/4, when Pant walked in. He settled down to craft 50 off 82 balls before racing to his century in another 33 deliveries. That breathtaking knock of 101 and his 113-run partnership with Washington Sundar took the match away from England.

This is the latest in the list of Pant’s exploits. In the first Test at Chennai, when all the Indian batsmen struggled, Pant seemed to be playing on a different pitch. His assault even made England left-arm spinner Jack Leach briefly consider an alternate career.

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In Australia too, Pant steered India to an improbable win at Gabba, Brisbane, with a superb 89. Earlier in Sydney, his 97 had helped India draw the third Test. These two innings were against one of the best attacks in the world.

Pant’s heroics have drawn comparisons with Australia’s Adam Gilchrist. The two share the same approach to batting, but Pant’s glovework has plenty of room for improvement. And the Indian has to perform more consistently. It’s been a struggle for him even in IPL 2020, but Pant hit a purple patch in Australia, and he’s been on a roll since.

Consistency, that’s been a worry for stroke makers. Aggression is always fraught with risk. Sehwag would attest to that. And that explains Tendulkar’s transformation from an explosive player to a steady batsmen. Let’s not turn Pant into a metronomic batsman. Let him be. Let’s enjoy his glorious strokeplay. It’s the kind that wins matches: like in Gabba and Motera.