You have kept wickets for 190-plus overs and seen your team concede 578 runs. You have dropped catches and missed a stumping. You have given byes and have been useless during the DRS recommendations. You have been making strange, but entertaining, noises from behind the stumps throughout the innings. You come out to bat with the team at 73-4, needing 303 runs just to save the follow-on. From the dressing room, you have seen your captain Virat Kohli and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane get out cheaply to spinners. You are the hero of India’s epic series win in Australia. Did anyone utter the word pressure?
Go to the top of the building and say this as loud as you can. Rishabh Pant though is not listening. He is deaf to that word, as if one can be at the age of 23 and in the age of constant trolling on social media sites. On Sunday he cracked an 88-ball 91 that included nine boundaries and five sixes. When he got out, attempting another maximum on the bowling of Dom Bess only to be caught by Jack Leach at deep-cover, India’s score became 225-6. Was this shot needed at this juncture? A personal milestone is just nine runs away and the team is 150-odd runs away from avoiding the follow-on. Why take the risk? It can be frustrating to watch. But as Sunil Gavaskar said, it is frustrating because we want more from him. It’s frustrating in a positive sense.
For Pant though, to borrow a line from the web-series Scam 1992, Risk hai toh ishq hai. The MA Chidambaram Stadium track isn’t a flat and low track. From the dressing room Pant saw how a ball from Jofra Archer took off from just short of the length to take the edge of Rohit Sharma’s bat. From behind the stumps he would have seen two contrasting approaches taken by England captain Joe Root who batted 337-balls for his 218, and that of Ben Stokes who cracked 82 in 118 balls.
Now Pant is no Root, but is no less than Stokes too when it comes to taking the risky route. At the end of the second day’s play Stokes had said, “I had to decide I'd rather get caught at deep square in the way that I did, as opposed to going back into my shell and being a bit defensive and spooning one up to short leg. I thought I might try and take a few runs with me before not the inevitable happened, but before I got out.”
Pant, it seemed, was listening. He started with twin boundaries to Archer and then took a liking to Leach. There was a fielder placed at long-on but Pant took him on. There was a method to this madness. He was hitting with the turn and backing himself to clear the rope. At one point he had hit Leach for four sixes in ten balls he faced from the left-arm bowler. You forgot that India had a mountain to climb and started to enjoy the scenic drive.
Pant had picked his man as against Bess he was more circumspect. He knew the risk of hitting against the spin on a track where every now and then there will be a puff of dust. The half-century came with a boundary to Leach. There were twin boundaries to Anderson and another six to Leach. As he closed in on a 100, he had got a 97 at Sydney and 78 not out at Brisbane, one could not think but wonder on how to deal with this precious talent.
Keeping a 'risk'
The thing is that it seems too risky to continue with him as a keeper. Jaspreet Bumrah would have had his first Test wicket on home soil if Pant had held on to a catch down the leg side of the first ball of his spell on day one. Towards the latter part of the England innings Ashwin was left frustrated when Pant missed a simple stumping of Leach. At best he can be called a work in progress with the gloves in hand. His lack of assertiveness and judgement in convincing or stopping the captain during the DRS protocols has also been evident in this Test where Kohli got all three calls wrong.
However at this point of time, it looks unlikely that Pant can be played as a pure batsman. But if not in this series, but surely in the future the team management will have to take a call on how to deal with the situation if Pant is not able to improve his keeping skills. Behind the stumps, he is neither Adam Gilchrist who held his own against Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, or MS Dhoni who did justice to the skills of Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan.
As things stand today, with Pant, Risk hai toh ishq hai.