Back in 2016, India returned from the U-19 World Cup with several positives despite their disappointing loss to West Indies in the final. None were bigger than the emergence of Rishabh Pant. In six games, the Delhi boy scored 267 runs, which included a stroke-filled 78 from just 24 balls against Nepal in the group stage.
He was on the radar already for bigger things and his home franchise Delhi Daredevils came calling. However, the first season was a letdown, with Pant scoring just 198 runs from his 10 games in 2016.
Pant, however, furthered his reputation in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season later in the year, smashing a triple-century in only his fourth First Class match, and a three weeks later making the fastest century by an Indian in First Class cricket, in just 48 balls. He finished his debut season with 972 runs at a spectacular average of 81 and four centuries.
His performances for Delhi fast-tracked him to the national side, going on to debut in the final T20I against England in 2017 in Bengaluru.
Even as Pant looked to consolidate his place in an India line-up bursting with top-quality batsmen, tragedy struck during the tenth edition of the IPL as he lost his father days before the first game. Yet, he played the match and nearly led his side to victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore with a single-handed effort. Later that season, he slammed a scorching 97 against Gujarat Lions, and went on to finish the tournament with 366 runs.
He played just one T20I when India toured West Indies in the immediate aftermath of the IPL season, but after an unusually laboured 38 that took 35, Pant was discarded for the lone T20I in Sri Lanka.
Pant was given the responsibility of leading Delhi in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy, and guided them to the final of the tournament. Despite finishing runner-up, Pant was controversially sacked as captain but in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy that followed, he continued to impress by scoring the second fastest century in T20 cricket, in just 32 balls against Himachal Pradesh.
That record knock brought him back to the Indian side for the Nidahas Trophy, but Pant failed to capitalise on the two opportunities in Sri Lanka. Conversely, Dinesh Karthik produced the greatest moment of his career, smashing a last-ball six to win the tournament. Karthik’s position strengthened and Pant fell down the pecking order.
However, IPL 2018 reinforced the reason why Rishabh Pant was an exceptional talent. The southpaw amassed 684 runs at a strike-rate of 173.60, with five half-centuries and one century and although Delhi had yet another disappointing season, his luminous form was one of the highlights of the tournament.
His century came just days after he was overlooked for the Indian limited overs sides to tour England, but was named in the India ‘A’ side that would also tour England. Pant had faced a similar snub when he was overlooked for the India ‘A’ tour of Australia two years ago and said he was determined to force his way back into the mix by the sheer weight of runs.
“I was very hurt after I didn’t make it to the India ‘A’ team’s tour of Australia,” he had told PTI. “But then I realised that I have to score plenty of runs. Itna runs banaoon ki koi ignore na kar sake” (I will score so well that no one can ignore me).
Pant is still following those words to a T. And on the back of a good tri-series, could well be on the final stretch of making his comeback to India’s limited overs sides. For now, the immediate focus will be to make the most of the four day matches against West Indies ‘A’ & England ‘A’ in the coming weeks in England.
First Published: July 4, 2018, 9:09 AM IST