Rishabh Pant and the art of controlled madness

Rishabh Pant and the art of controlled madness

Rishabh Pant is rising through ranks in international cricket like an absolute champion.

Rishabh Pant
Rishabh Pant. (Photo Source: Getty Images)

After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities”-V.S. Naipaul. That legendary quote from Naipaul seems to be the gospel to which Rishabh Pant has submitted himself to. His entire approach to cricket in the past 4 months seems to have emerged from his self-realization as a cricketer with infinite possibilities. Jimmy Anderson, at 38, is probably at the peak of his remarkable Test career. He is bowling better than he has ever done. And the numbers don’t lie either: Before the age of 30, Jimmy picked up 268 wickets in 71 Tests at an average of 30.37.

Since turning 31, in 87 Tests, he has picked up 343 wickets at an average of 23.45. In Asian conditions, the numbers have intensified: Before 30, in 10 Tests, (30 scalps) he averaged 33 with SR of 69.5 and economy of 2.84. Since turning 31, in 14 Tests, (41 scalps) he averages 24 with an SR of 60.5 and an economy rate of 24. Just 5 wickets away from paralleling Kumble at 619 scalps, Jimmy has mastered the art of controlling the game. Old ball, new ball, middle overs- he’s got the technique, control, pace, skill, and judgment for it all. In short, he has everything a bowler needs.

And the elder statesman doesn’t seem to care about the age debate & the subcontinental heat. And it’s against this bowler that Rishabh Pant came charging down the track and smashed it back over his head on the very first ball of his new spell in the Test series against England. The new spell with the 2nd new ball of the innings. It was a good shot. It was a great shot.

Rishabh Pant’s shots to look for:

In hindsight, it was a statement. A statement of new defeating the old. A moment of cricketing churn. And in Jimmy’s very next over, just to testify the genuineness of this churn, Pant reverse lapped him over the slips for another four. It blanked people completely. One couldn’t hear what the ‘voice of cricket’ was confessing. It threw the context of the game out of it. The Indian innings gained momentum, and India propelled. Before creating the moment, Pant had to measure every inch of the pitch. He walked in when Rahane fell to Jimmy to the last ball before lunch on the 3rd day.

India was 80-4. With a set Rohit Sharma, Pant assessed. When Rohit fell, he controlled. He scored at a strike rate of 61 to get to his first 50 runs, and in the process, carried Sundar along with him. India went past England’s tally and consequently, Pant’s next 50 runs came at a strike rate of 141. A testament to what Pant can do at will.

A similar effort but less effective in terms of the context of the game that was witnessed in the 1st Test at Chennai where he got out on 91(88, 9 4s, 5 6s) not before demoralizing Jack Leach. He whacked him all over the park, especially deep mid-wicket, straight, cow-corner, and long-on which are his most preferred areas against spin. Pant once again realized the flatness of the pitch and the changing nature of it. He knew he couldn’t stick around waiting for bad balls and that England had all the time in the world to bowl India out twice. Just over a month ago, India had done the impossible. They had reclaimed the Border-Gavaskar trophy in Australia for the 2nd time in a row.

The Australian side they beat was simply the best Australian side that they had played in a decade down under. And India beat them fairly and squarely. The decider in which they beat them was at their 32-year-old fortress. India’s Saviour & Demolition-Man in that series was to be found in Rishabh Pant. Again. After making a mockery of the best Test bowling attack in Sydney, he made sure the wreckage of Gabbatoir was visible both physically and psychologically.

And to just recall the confidence of the man, in an instance which made the mighty Warner go “Wow”, he charged down to the pitch of the ball and clubbed Nathan Lyon against the turn over Long-on for a gigantic six. Lyon had an abrupt comeback to reality because the ball just before had spun 2 meters out of rough to Steve Smith at first slip. Even in an intense setting, with India at 167-3 chasing 328, having just lost their captain, Pant walked in to join Cheteshwar Pujara. His first 50 runs came off 100 balls.

Rishabh Pant’s heroics that shook Kangaroos

The next brutal 39 came off 38. The innings was better than a hundred, and for Pant, sweeter than a century. And this kind of audacity, this kind of hell-bent force rocked the Aussies. It made them flat on their land. And for the first time in two decades, I felt the Aussies had nothing in them to riposte. Then and now, the meticulous approach at the beginning, the solidity in the middle, and the wild adventures at the end seem to be the USP for Pant’s success. And it does remind us of some Hitchcockian classics. But to be fair to Pant, his’ was a more upright, appealing, and scintillating show than what ‘Psycho’ or ‘Vertigo’ had to offer in the first viewing. And reaffirming the notion that, nothing can beat live cricket, Err.

Nothing can best live Test-cricket. Just 3 months into the new decade, batting mostly at no 5/6 for India across formats, Pant has already played a grand role in India’s greatest ever Test series win. And in the realm of shorter-formats, the virtuoso Pant has already flowered and the glimpses of his heroics were at disposal in the recent series that went by. The sublime combination of his bat swing, his shot selections, his game-sense, his adaptability, and his fearless approach aligning with the ‘team plan’ is all part of the package that he now offers confidently.

A package that is full of ridiculous, at times outrageous, out-of-the-box solutions to all the challenges a cricket ball could ever pose. And in all the comparison that is going around with Pant & Gilchrist, Pant & Sehwag, etc., about character and style of play, the point that is being ignored is that of timing. There is a huge gap between the 90s and 2000s kids. The Pant of today isn’t what Sehwag or Gilchrist was at 23. At 23, Sehwag hadn’t even rightfully cemented his place in the National team and Adam Gilchrist had to wait till 28 to flaunt his baggy green.

 Gilchrist neither sang an Aussie version of ‘spiderman spiderman’ at the stump mic and nor did the probability of Sehwag sledging an Aussie skipper as a ‘temporary captain’ ever went above 0. Both of them never played T20 to get into their National side. And luckily for them, they never tried to reverse lap the most skillful fast bowler of their era over slips for a boundary. And yet, here we are with Pant. Left with all his verbal hysteria behind the stumps, with those dropped catches and missed stumpings, and with his maverickian approach to batting, which for some, makes him a curiosity, and the very existence of him, an enigma.

And to some, like me, his entire stay on the cricket field is a concentrated decoction of where a century-old game is heading. Rishabh Pant’s meteoric rise from an under-19 star to IPL heartthrob and to now becoming a serious contender for the Test player of the year is all madness to the outer world, but within the game that Pant plays, it works, it strengthens, and shapes-up to become an art, an art of controlled madness. The one that Pant has mastered.

~ Written by Uday Joshi