Rishabh Pant has had a great last six months in international cricket. He has dominated top bowling attacks in Australia and in the home series against England in India. Whereas, he has found success in all three formats, it is in Test cricket, the format which should suit him the least, that he has dominated and transformed into a destructive match-winner with the bat in the lower-order. Pant is now threatening to do on a consistent basis what Adam Gilchrist did for the world-beating Australian team in the 2000s and in some ways what Sehwag did for India at the top of the order for India also in that period - a sentiment also echoed by another wicket-keeper batsman from India, Dinesh Karthik.
Pant has had a phenomenal start to his Test career - 1358 runs in 20 matches at an average of 45.26 with three stunning hundreds and six fifties. These numbers, in their own right, are outstanding for a wicket-keeper batsman. But when one adds the extra dimension of strike rate to them they threaten to become revolutionary! Pant has a strike rate of 71.47 in Test cricket. Amongst contemporary batsmen, only Colin de Grandhomme (who is an all-rounder) and David Warner have higher scoring rates than Pant.
Pant is doing now for India what Glichrist did for Australia in the 2000s and Sehwag did for India also in that time-period. Both of them re-defined Test batting by scoring aggressively taking the attack to the opposition bowlers and annihilating them into submission. Not only did they score big but did so consistently at a very high strike rate. This had a double effect on the opposition. One, it demoralized them and shattered their confidence and secondly, by the virtue of their scoring rate, it saved time for the bowlers to bowl out the opposition twice.
While Kumble and Harbhajan were India’s biggest match-winners with the ball in home conditions in the 2000s, it was Sehwag whose blitzkrieg starts, hundreds, double hundreds and even triple hundreds scored at a lightning pace gave the two Indian spin wizards time to bowl out the opposition. Had Sehwag been a conventional text-book style orthodox opener, India would have played out several more draws especially in home conditions. He converted those potential draws into wins by tearing into the bowling at the top of the order. Even when he did not himself get the big daddy hundreds, he gave India the impetus at the start and set the platform for the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar to score big.
Gilchrist had a different role as he batted in the lower-order and was part of a world-beating Australian unit. What he did was take Australia’s domination to another level and completely destroy the opposition.
It does not come as a surprise then that Sehwag (82.23) and Gilchrist (81.95) have the highest strike rate in Test history (min. 2000 runs) - this when seen with their aggregate runs of 8586 and 5570 and averages of 49.34 and 47.6 gives an indicator of the kind of revolutionary impact these two greats had on the game.
From what he has shown so far, it could well turn out to be a similar story for Pant. He is an interesting combination of Sehwag and Gilchrist. Pant will play a lot of Test cricket in India and his ability to score big at a high rate from the lower middle-order will invariably create time for the Indian spinners - Ashwin and Jadeja - to bowl out the opposition twice. Pant, by virtue of his batting position is in direct comparison with Gilchrist. The Australian changed the complexion of a match with his power-hitting essentially from the number 7 position. The Indian wicket-keeper batsman is doing exactly the same from number 6 and 7.
However, there are two more qualities that Pant has displayed very early in his Test career which make him stand apart. He is not only scoring big runs at a high strike rate from the lower middle-order but also doing so from very difficult and high-pressure situations and in overseas conditions. Not undermining his greatness but Sehwag did not play well under pressure and tense situations and also only 4 of his 23 hundreds were registered in SENA countries. Pant already has two centuries in SENA and two other high impact knocks from very difficult situations which defined the outcome for his country.
Gilchrist was a part of a world-conquering all-time great Australian unit. Yes, he produced some counter-attacking hundreds from difficult positions but by and large the other greats in the team - Hayden, Ponting, Langer - provided him with the starts and gave him a platform to take the domination to the next level. While Pant is also a part of a very fine number 1 ranked Indian team, it is yet to conquer the world and dominate England in England and South Africa in South Africa. Pant has already faced many challenging and high pressure situations in his 20-Test career.
He came out to bat at 121 for 5 at The Oval in 2018 and combined with KL Rahul to put together a double century stand for the sixth-wicket. Pant’s 114 off 146 deliveries gave England a real scare before India were bowled out for 345 in their pursuit of 464. He hammered an unbeaten 159 off 189 deliveries at the SCG in 2019 batting Australia out of the match and thereby helping India secure a draw which resulted in a historic 2-1 series victory.
Pant then combined with Cheteshwar Pujara and stitched together a match-changing 148-run partnership taking India from 102 for 3 to 250 before he was dismissed for 97 off 118 deliveries against Australia in Sydney in 2021. Chasing 407, he gave the home team a real scare and not only helped India save the match and remain alive in the series but actually threatened to win the match for his country as long as he was out there in the middle. In a high pressure situation, against all odds and the best fast bowling unit in their own backyard, Pant showed class and composure and produced a counter-attack for the ages. That also gave rise to a new partnership for India - a unique and contrasting one - between Pant and Pujara.
The pair took it to another level and were again involved in a defining partnership in the historic win in the decider at The Gabba. Pant produced one of the greatest innings by an Indian in Test cricket and one of the best knocks in the fourth innings in Test history remaining undefeated on 89 off 138 deliveries as India chased down the target of 328 with three wickets in hand.
Coming out to bat at 80 for 4 which worsened to 121 for 5 and 146 for 6, Pant counter-attacked with a brilliant 101 off just 118 deliveries against England helping India to 365. From what appeared like a below-180 total, India actually took a massive lead in the first innings and then dictated terms to England for the rest of the match and eventually went on to win by an innings thereby sealing the series. Pant’s innings was the difference between victory and defeat for India and significantly the innings that took India to the final of the World Test Championship against New Zealand in Southampton.
Pant provides that X-factor in the lower-order for India - something that was expected of Hardik Pandya. There has been a method to his madness in the lower-order. It is not all slam-bam. He picks his battles, takes calculated high percentage risks and mixes caution with aggression beautifully.
Not only has Pant proven to be India’s biggest match-winner with the bat in the last six months but has also added that vital balance to the team. With him batting at number 6, India now has the confidence to play the extra bowler in overseas conditions - be it an extra pacer or specialist spinner. This is a departure from India’s team combination away from home in the recent years where they have preferred to cushion the line-up with an extra batsman. Thus, Pant the all-rounder has given India the flexibility to go with a more attacking mindset overseas.
It has been a great start to Pant - the batsman in Test cricket. So much so that India have mooted the idea of playing him as a pure batsman at some point and Wriddhiman Saha as the specialist keeper. Pant has a long way to go but if he continues in this vein, he has the potential and the ability to outdo even what the greats Sehwag and Gilchrist did during their era in Test cricket.