Rishabh Pants: One-in-a-Generation Cricketer

Sitting in a restaurant in Manchester, Sourav Ganguly once said: “He will be your biggest match-winner in the next 10 years. Listen to me carefully. He’s blessed with the kind of talent I haven’t seen in a long time. Yes, he needs time, but he’s a once-in-a-generation player.

Ganguly was talking about Rishabh Pant. It was the evening after India’s 2019 World Cup defeat to New Zealand in Manchester. The defeat was not cashed yet. India had failed to chase 240 and the dream of winning the trophy had come to an end. The man most in the line of fire was Pant for throwing his wicket. He’s been called overrated, overweight, reckless and more. His batting approach has been criticized.

Ganguly’s words were hard to believe, but he still loved Pant and, under the circumstances, that seemed like a huge exaggeration.

Exactly three years later, you have to agree with Ganguly. With two defining streaks in Australia, hundreds in South Africa (1), England (2) and Australia (1) and the pace at which he beats, Pant quickly rises to modern-day great status.

With Pant, it’s all or nothing. With this approach, there is no doubt that he will fail some days. But on the days he does succeed – his test cricket success rate is higher than his failures – he takes games away from the opposition. To score five times against an England attack that boasts James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Matthew Potts in Edgbaston under cloudy skies was incredible to say the least. This round transformed the game and ensured India’s World Test Championship (WTC) hopes remained alive.

Contrary to popular belief, Pant is a thinking cricketer. It’s not all slam bang. There is always a method to his madness. After his Gabba exploits, for example, he had spoken about how he knew Nathan Lyon would try to move away from the rough on the middle and off stump and that was what drove him to dance down the track and take on Lyon. Pant was playing against Lyon on and off the pitch. He was winning the mind games and winning the India match. It was the same against Jack Leach in Edgbaston. It wasn’t rocket science that Pant attacked Leach. But the way he did it is what defined the decider’s first afternoon. He beat Leach in the head and managed to steal the game from England.

Pant, with his 146 counterattack, set India up for the game. It beats at a pace that gives its bowlers plenty of time to tackle the opponent. Also, while we celebrate Pant, it would be unfair not to mention Jadeja. Possibly the most improved Test hitters in recent years, Jadeja looked unfazed even when India were at five in 98 and then when Pant came out.

Rahul Dravid, India’s head coach, isn’t the most expressive man, but his Pant’s 100 celebration was proof of how important innings are. Pant was under pressure not to score regularly and his place in the white ball setup was in question. Dravid defended him time and time again and it was important for Pant to justify his support. That’s what he did at Edgbaston and he did it in style. It will be one of the most impactful opening rounds ever played by an Indian on English soil and one that could go on to win India a historic away streak. That’s what Pant is, a true match winner and a rare talent.

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