The distance from Haridwar to Perth, as the very tired crow flies, is 7943 kilometres. But, when you see just how far Rishabh Pant has come in his cricketing journey, even this humongous number seems small.
In the first Test against Australia in Adelaide, Pant kept wickets, Pant batted, hell, without knowing it Pant was even commentator for one over when host broadcaster Fox decided to silence their men and allow the chirp from the wicketkeeper to Pat Cummins to inform the world on the state of play.
In a Test match where the record for the most number of catches was broken — there were 35 in all — it felt right that the wicketkeeper had the lion’s individual share, 11 catches. There might have been a 12th and a world record, but Pant’s dive to his right to try and hold onto a healthy edge from Nathan Lyon, fell short and he had to be content with drawing level with England’s Jack Russell and South Africa’s AB de Villiers.
There was another miss, not quite a drop, when Pant failed to get a glove to ball from a Tim Paine edge. But, you don’t dwell on what went begging when someone has played his part in sealing a famous victory. Pant is playing only his sixth Test match and he knows better than anyone else what his limitations are behind the stumps. He will no doubt work on improving his footwork, which will help him attempt more catches with two hands rather than one. His anticipation can only get better as he closely watches the best in the world, how they bat and what the ball does in response to certain strokes.(AP Photo)
With the bat, Pant is all excitement. Or none at all. When called to, he can block it, but he’d rather not. His natural instincts are to attack and the manner in which he picked up a full ball from Mitchell Starc in India’s first innings and dinked it over backward square for six was pure Twenty20 magic. Pant made 25 and 28 in his two innings, 36 of 53 runs coming off only eight deliveries in boundaries.
But while that contribution in this Test, a low scoring one, was adequate, the fact that he has predominantly two gears, first and overdrive, would not have missed the attention of opposition bowlers, coaches and video analysts. A case in point was when Lyon packed the off side field with slip, silly point, gully, point and two short covers and bowled his hard spun quick off breaks, Pant found it almost impossible to get off strike. He either had to take the high-risk option playing across the line or slog the ball over the infield.
To his credit, he managed to strike a few clean blows, but the fact that he could not then make the most of it has been noticed by many, including the coach of the Indian team. "You have to allow him to play his game, but he has to be a little more sensible now,” said Shastri after the first Test. “He did the hard work in getting Lyon to spread his fields, so he has to be smarter. You make a mistake now, but don't repeat it, then I'll be in his ears.”
It would be wise for Pant to engage in course correction on his own for he does not want to get a reputation for having only one style of play. Whether he works with fielding coach R Sridhar, reaches out to those who have helped him get where he is or learn by himself, he has to work on becoming a more complete batsman, one who can be relied on to work the singles, rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking along when the big shots are taken out of the equation.
Pant credited Mahendra Singh Dhoni for being a major influence in his evolution. “He's (Dhoni) the hero of the country," Pant told the Cricket Australia website soon after the first Test. “I’ve learnt a lot from him as a person and as a cricketer as well. Whenever he’s around I feel more confident as a person. If I’ve got any problems I can share it with him and get a solution right away. As a wicketkeeper and as a player he has taught me to be patient in pressure situations. You have to keep calm and keep composed and give 100%."
Working hard and giving 100% are things that this lot of international cricketers do not shy away from at any stage. That should be a given. What is not is skill levels and the ability to grow as a cricketer. When Pant adds that to his personality, he has the potential to become a superstar in front of the stumps and an invaluable asset behind them.