After Rishabh Pant’s memorable knock of 87 not out to win the final Test match and the series against Australia, the world rightly toasted the genius of the young man’s batting. A hero also in salvaging a draw in Sydney, this was a statement of class from a cricketer who will play a huge role for India over the next decade.
On to Chennai, and despite a loss and cheap dismissal in the second innings of the first Test, Pant’s destructive 91 was another wonderful display against England, whose decision not to declare earlier on the fourth day found its sole explanation in the danger that the wicketkeeper poses. England captain Joe Root is all too aware of his quality after Pant scored his maiden test century in England in 2018.
Much has been made of the positive state that Indian cricket finds itself in right now. From grassroots upwards, it has never had a better system for discovering the vast talent that its huge population offers; the recent successes of Mohammed Siraj and Washington Sundar evidence of the fact.
This wonderful platform for success requires the Test side to capitalise. Having shown such ability in the past few years, there is no less vital figure than Rishabh Pant in achieving this.
Pant must aim for the very top. Driving Jimmy Anderson on the up and assaulting Jack Leach’s off spin, the first Test made it very clear that Pant’s impressive batting average of 44 could yet soar. His dismissal to Dom Bess, one attacking shot too many, did not demonstrate any infectious influence of his T20 history, nor a “brain fade” as many have described it.
Pant has shown himself to be able to dig in at times, and his fearlessness is what makes him so good, but by developing a slightly more nuanced batting strategy, he would find himself at the pinnacle of the game.
Take Ben Stokes, for example, who in the first five years of his career was viewed as an occasionally dangerous batsman who struck the ball hard, averaging 32 by the end of 2018 at a strike rate of 58.
Since the start of 2019, he has begun to bat in a far more variable way, depending on the game situation and the merit of each delivery. His 135 not out at Headingly is a perfect example, where he took two runs from his first 66 balls, recognising the precariousness of England’s position, and then scoring 133 off his next 153 deliveries. His average of 49 since the start of 2019 at a strike rate of 61 has not come from reining it in, but by becoming more adaptable.
Stokes has taken England to the next level in all facets of the game, and Pant can exemplify his journey as a Test cricketer to do the same with India. With some work on his keeping and a similar, pragmatic approach to batting, whilst continuing to play his magnificent shots, he can push his already admirable average beyond 50 and take advantage of the promising situation Indian cricket finds itself in.
Much, of course, is made of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma, but it is India’s younger players -namely Pant, Shubman Gill, and Sundar – who hold the keys to the future of Indian Test cricket.
Rather than settling for quick, exciting 50s and losing out, it is time for these players, led by Pant, to get greedy. Talking of their future is all well and good, but they have shown the ability to achieve huge things even in such early stages of their careers. By observing the journeys of the senior players they face, they can begin to dominate it.
Image: Ben Sutherland via Creative Commons