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Picking on Minutest of Errors Will Hinder, Not Help Rishabh Pant's Career

Rewind a few months back, when Rishabh Pant was not picked in the Indian squad for the World Cup. There was outrage all over, questioning how India could leave out such a dynamic player for a tournament in a country known for big scores.

Karthik Lakshmanan |September 20, 2019, 2:00 PM IST
Picking on Minutest of Errors Will Hinder, Not Help Rishabh Pant's Career

Rewind a few months back, when Rishabh Pant was not picked in the Indian squad for the World Cup. There was outrage all over, questioning how India could leave out such a dynamic player for a tournament in a country known for big scores.

Pant eventually made it to the side as a replacement, much to the satisfaction of many. That, though, didn't last long. It gave way to questions over his shot selection, beginning with the World Cup semifinal when he heaved Mitchell Santner to deep mid-wicket.

Pant had done all the hard work scoring 32 after seeing India slip to 5 for 3, but he gave it all away with one stroke at a crucial time. The sight of an angry Virat Kohli in the dressing room is not something many would forget.

Just one innings later, his temperament and shot selection was in question again, when he slogged at Fabian Allen first ball to be dismissed at Port of Spain against West Indies. He had walked in at 91 for 2 chasing 255 in 35 overs, with Kohli at the other end.

All he needed to do was bat with the captain, but Pant chose another option. Shreyas Iyer did what was required in that situation, batting calmly for a half-century to win the match with Kohli.

It wasn't even the first time Pant had played such a 'rash' stroke early on in the tour. He had done exactly the same in the first T20I, slogging Sunil Narine to the deep first ball in a modest but tricky chase.

Pant redeemed himself with an unbeaten 65 in the chase of the final T20I, but the first-ball duck in the final ODI didn't help the perception cause.

He now finds himself caught between 'careless' and 'fearless' batting; this isn't just a conjecture from watching Pant, but evidenced by the fact that many from the team management have publicly spoken about it.

Kohli, Ravi Shastri and even the new batting coach Vikram Rathour have called on Pant to sort his game-plan and not let the team down.

Chief selector MSK Prasad stressed that Pant is the No. 1 choice, although he hinted the selectors are ready with back-ups across formats.

"We are monitoring the workload of Rishabh. Of course, we have been grooming backups across all formats. We have the young KS Bharath doing well in the longer format for India A. We also have Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson doing well in the shorter formats for India ‘A’ and domestic cricket," Prasad told Indian Express.

"I have already said that post World Cup we have been concentrating on the progress of Rishabh. We need to be patient with him, considering the immense talent that he possesses."

One important part of 'being patient' with Pant is to not pick on every failure of his. It might not be the case with the team management; they're usually far more understanding of situations and shot-making than the general public. But the call for 'patience' should be extended to fans too.

It's an era where public perception affects many things in Indian cricket including selection - Rohit Sharma's eventual selection as Test opener ahead of other consistent openers in first-class cricket can be traced back to an idea planted publicly by Sourav Ganguly, which then gathered momentum.

The team in all certainty will, but it's important for fans too to understand the difference between a rash and poorly executed shot. His slogs in the above mentioned examples were 'rash'.

His dismissal in the second T20I against South Africa in Mohali falls in the latter bracket. Left-arm spinner Bjorn Fortuin bowled a terrible half-tracker down leg side.

Pant went for the right shot in heaving behind square. He was unfortunate to not time and place it well, finding the lone fielder at short fine-leg.

In short, the shot was right but the execution was wrong. It's not too different from driving a full ball to cover, or in other words, 'falling softly'. In some ways, it would have been more negative and a worrying sign had Pant just tapped that ball to the leg-side for one.

Yes, he has crossed that fine line between fearless and careless batting often. His T20I record is nowhere close to extraordinary - he has 10 scores below 10 in 18 innings. But outraging for the minutest of mistakes, like the one in Mohali, will do no good either.

India could also consider switching the batting positions of Iyer and Pant, which could benefit both. They've given Pant a long rope at No. 4, but it's no seret that Iyer is better suited to that position unless India are in need of quick runs.

It helps Iyer too; most of his success especially in T20 cricket has come in the top order.

Players like Pant are rare, even in India despite 12 seasons of IPL. Take a quick glance at the IPL teams and count the number of Indian middle-order batsmen who can claim to be big hitters.

Apart from a Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik, and perhaps Yusuf Pathan and Yuvraj Singh in their prime, there aren't too many in that category.

Pant has the potential to be that player, as his IPL strike-rate above 162 suggests. India shouldn't kill the possibility by forcefully changing his style of play.

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