Despite his age, the Delhi boy's ride to receive his Test cap, amongst adulations from his fellow teammates from the Indian skipper Virat Kohli, has been nothing short of a roller-coaster.
Of the 18 (Okay, 19) men picked to do duty for India in the five Tests in England over a frenetic six weeks, only two had not played Test cricket — Mumbai’s Shardul Thakur and Delhi’s Rishabh Pant. While Thakur will serve as back-up to the more experienced fast bowlers in the squad, Pant, who has been identified as a prodigious talent, was the back-up wicket-keeper.
The inclusion of Pant in the Test squad had raised a few eyebrows, but once first-choice wicket-keeper Wridhimann Saha failed to recover from a thumb injury, the selectors had to cast their net wider. Dinesh Karthik, who made a Test comeback after eight years against Afghanistan, and Parthiv Patel, who has failed to capitalize the opportunities presented over the last year in Saha’s absence, were the other options.
All considered the call was made to jettison Patel for an investment in the future. Pant, at 20, is that future. Already, his has been a career that’s taken an unpredictable path and this call-up, and eventual debut adds another chapter.
Pant’s rise started with an impressive 2016 U-19 World Cup, followed by a prolific Ranji Trophy campaign, which saw him finish his debut season with 972 runs. He scored four centuries that season, including a triple-hundred and the fastest century by an Indian in First-class cricket.
Impressed with his obvious ability, an India call-up came against England in early 2017, but Pant failed to consolidate his place in the T20I side after an unimpressive showing in West Indies after an average showing in IPL 2016.
It was in the domestic season that followed in which Pant found firmer ground. Just out of his teens, he was handed the responsibility of leading Delhi in the Ranji Trophy, and he did so ably, guiding them to the final. However, Delhi was denied the title by an inspired Vidharba side led by veteran Wasim Jaffer.
Despite Delhi’s strong finish, Pant was controversially sacked from the leadership heading into the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He overcame the setback by scoring the second fastest century in T20 cricket in the tournament, taking just 32 balls against Himachal Pradesh to get to the landmark.
Pant returned to the Indian side in the Nidahas Trophy earlier this year but failed in the two games he played. His fellow wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik went on to produce the highlight of his professional career - smashing a last-ball six to win the tournament.
However, in the following two months, Pant found another gear, amassing 684 runs at a strike-rate of 173.60, with five half-centuries and one century in the IPL. Delhi Daredevils finished last on the table but the youngster finished second in the race for the Orange Cap.
Despite being in the midst of a fabulous IPL season, he was overlooked for the limited overs squad against England but stayed in the vision of the men who matter in Indian cricket by being included in the India A side to play against West Indies A and England Lions.
Pant scored two-half centuries in the List A games in England that helped him get picked for the India A’s unofficial Tests against West Indies A and England Lions.
In fact, when the Indian squad was announced for the Tests in England, he was in partnership with Ajinkya Rahane as India A looked to rebuild their innings against the England Lions.
The hosts had posted 423 in the first innings and India A found themselves struggling at 93/4 when the southpaw walked in. Pant scored a half-century against a potent English bowling side, helping the visitors out of a precarious situation on Day 3 before he was cleaned up by Chris Woakes.
— BCCI (@BCCI) August 18, 2018
Fast forward two Tests, Pant has been handed his first Test cap. Karthik's comeback didn't last long as poor form and a finger injury paved the way for the youngster's debut.
He, however, has been thrown into the firing line in tough conditions, with India facing a daunting task of making a comeback into the series. Pant would hope that his international road is long, with Trent Bridge the starting point. For now, as the spotlight shines on his debut and expectations galore, he can revel in the headline reading - Rishabh Pant, Indian Test Cricketer.
First Published: August 18, 2018, 3:30 PM IST