Rishabh Pant. For now, the name is enough to make Indian cricket fans happy and cheering. The hero of India’s Test historic victory in Australia, the one that helped them win the series and lift the Border Gavaskar Trophy for the second time in the country on the trot. Pant, lambasted for his wicketkeeping, took this bruised and battered but unyielding Indian cricket to team to one of their most famous overseas Test wins, and should be toasted.
When he was picked over Wriddhiman Saha, who is known to be a far superior Test wicketkeeper, there were plenty of critics and fans who questioned the move. Pant’s fitness, style of play that apparently did not suit Test cricket land the way he carried himself on the ground were questioned. But in Australia, Pant came, conquered, and left the crease with everyone smiling and cheering.
His role in this Test series started off with him being picked for the second Test match, as the primary wicketkeeper of the team, after the low of 36 all out. It did not take long for him to get into the groove and start performing the way that was expected of him. In India’s first innings in Melbourne, he helped arrest a slide with a vital 29 off 40 deliveries.
The real test of his skills both with the bat and as wicketkeeper was put on the scale in the Sydney Test where he stunned everyone in the final innings of the match with his heroic 97 off 118 balls. This final-day fifty came after Pant had dropped a couple catches, so again his role in the team was under the scanner. But from the point that he took charge, the momentum was shifted and India drew that Sydney Test.
Real fame awaited Pant in the final match of the series, at Australia’s fortress of the Gabba, where he helped orchestrated a stunning four-wicket win that gave India the series 2-1. There seems to be a pattern developing, which amusingly shows us that Pant likes stepping up the fourth innings. After a punchy 23 in the first innings, where again he drew flack for slapping a catch to gully, Pant put in a performance that has made him the star of everyone’s eyes.
He came in to bat when India was in a spot of bother, with three of their top batsmen sitting in the pavilion. He capitalised on the presence of Cheteshwar Pujara at the other end, and the foundation that Shubman Gill had set for the team, and started to build on. He mixed his quirky shots well with some bit hits and helped India inch closer to a win. When Pujara and Mayank Agarwal departed quickly, the onus was on Pant’s shoulders to carry the team through and he did not disappoint.
From that point on, with the less experienced Washington Sundar batting with him, Pant took responsibility and led the Indian team to victory. Deservedly, he hit the winning runs off the last ball of the 97th over of the inning, pushing his individual score to 89 and making a statement. A statement which can be put into the famous words of Steve Jobs: “You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify and vilify them. About the only thing, you can’t do is ignore them”.
Pant’s performance in the Gabba Test should have won him many new admirers, and the critics can take a back seat.