Rishabh Pant is a rare batting talent that needs to be nurtured
A quick question: Name a young, left-handed wicketkeeper batsman who first made his name playing for India Under-19, before taking the Indian Premier League (IPL) by storm. Anyone who has been following this year’s IPL will name Rishabh Pant, who has been spectacular for Delhi Daredevils. But the answer to that question could just as easily be Shreevats Goswami.
Goswami, 19 at the time and coming off an Under-19 World Cup win, was one of the many young Indian stars of the inaugural IPL in 2008. He was named the best under-23 player of the tournament (ahead of Virat Kohli, among others) and the future looked as bright as the floodlights he was playing under. Goswami remains an important member of Bengal’s Ranji Trophy team, but his career definitely hasn’t shaped up as many had expected.
He’s not the only one either. Saurabh Tiwary had a breakthrough season for Mumbai Indians in 2010, which even led to an India call-up, but he moved out of the limelight as quickly, and was released by Rising Pune Supergiant before the 2017 season. Swapnil Asnodkar, Yo Mahesh, Manvinder Bisla, Paul Valthaty....This list is kind of never-ending, so let’s get back to Pant.
It’s impossible not to get excited watching Pant bat, with the stand-out knock coming against Gujarat Lions last week. Gujarat, playing to keep their qualification hopes alive, had scored 208 in 20 overs—a total that should have been enough against a Delhi line-up that had swung wildly between insouciance and incompetence. Pant smashed 97 off just 43 balls to take Delhi to an unlikely seven-wicket win.
His IPL success has come on the back of a tremendous Ranji season for Delhi, where he scored 972 runs at an average of 81 and a strike rate of over 100. This included a triple century against Maharashtra and a 48-ball hundred against Jharkhand.
It’s not just the runs he scores though, it’s the way he scores them. He seems to marry the flamboyance and timing of a Yuvraj Singh with the hard-nosed competitiveness of a Virat Kohli. Whisper it, but this one shot he hit the other day—swivelling on his left leg to deposit a short ball over the square-leg fence—had Brian Lara written all over it.
As you can sense, Pant is a batsman who attracts, almost demands, hyperbole. Sachin Tendulkar, for example, called his 97 against Gujarat the best innings he had seen in the 10 years of the IPL.
So how do you deal with such a precocious talent? Throw him in at the deep end and see if he sinks or swims? Or keep him straining at the leash?
The selectors seem to be going for the second option, having resisted the temptation to pick him for India’s Champions Trophy squad for June, but one can only hope that this is part of a longer-term plan that involves easing him into the big league, safe in the knowledge that a long, successful career lies ahead if the first steps are taken cautiously.
Because there is a difference between Pant and the others who have shone briefly before fading away. The likes of Goswami, Tiwary, Asnodkar and Bisla had you feeling sorry for them, for not having been able to make more of their talent. If Pant doesn’t make the grade, however, it will also be India’s loss.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa. He tweets at @deepakyen.