The Unflappable Pant Seizes His Opportunity
The 21 year old’s confidence is striking
Dashing, daring, aggressive and a genuine match-winner who could smash towering sixes at will, MS Dhoni was a player to watch when he entered the international fray. With long locks and uncanny batting flair, the batsman from Ranchi was also an exciting wicket-keeper whose skills grabbed attention almost 13 years ago.
With the senior legends in the team preparing to step down, captaincy’s reins were handed to Dhoni, who immediately made a mark by winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, followed by the tri-nation victory in Australia a few months later.
As the years rolled by Dhoni’s prowess with the bat reached new heights, and so did his leadership skills, as we witnessed India clinch the top Test ranking, the 2011 World Cup and the Champions Trophy in 2013. Team India was unstoppable and Dhoni the player who could do no wrong.
But as is the norm, downfalls soon followed and with successive Test defeats abroad the pressure on Dhoni increased. By 2014 Indian cricket’s blue-eyed boy had retired from Test cricket, and early last year he decided to give up his captaincy in the shorter formats as well, so he could concentrate solely on his batting ahead of the World Cup in 2019.
While the move initially seemed to work wonders – he scored a hundred against England, his first T20I fifty and had a phenomenal IPL this year – form seems to have deserted Dhoni in the last few months. Not only has he found it tough to navigate spinners, but his footwork and hand-eye coordination have seemed lacking. As a result he has scored just 275 in 11 ODI innings this year, at an average of 25.
With Dhoni unable to rotate the strike consistently and also go for the big hits, which was amply evident in the ODI at Lord’s where he was booed, and in the Asia Cup finals where he looked pale and completely out of rhythm, the selectors decided to look past the veteran in T20Is, and chose Rishabh Pant instead as his possible successor.
The Delhiite, who impressed with his maturity in the IPL and in the Tests against England and the West Indies, had yet to get a decent run in the shorter formats due to the presence of Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik.
But with the former’s ouster, Pant was in the thick of the action in the recently concluded T20s against the West Indies. Though he failed to impress in the first two games, Pant rose to the occasion in the third, steadying the innings after India had lost two early wickets in a tricky run chase.
Along with Shikhar Dhawan, Pant stayed till the end and took the team within touching distance of the target, also becoming the second-youngest Indian to score a T20I half-century.
However, what is most striking about the 21 year old is his unflappable confidence. His technique and shot making make one drool, and his cricketing brain, along with his steely nerves – evident when he took the field just a few days after his father’s demise – makes him one of the most promising players in the Indian team.
Although Pant is prone to falling victim to the most stupidest of shots at times, one is hopeful that with age and opportunity he will learn the art of finishing games as well.
With Parthiv Patel and Karthik unable to make the most of the opportunities given them, the onus is now on young Rishabh Pant to seal his spot in the team.