In a T20I match between India and West Indies in December 2019, Rishabh Pant dropped a catch off Evin Lewis in the fifh over. Immediately the Greenfield Stadium of Thiruvananthapuram was filled with chants of “Dhoni, Dhoni!” to taunt the young Indian wicketkeeper and let everyone know who was being missed.
Fast forward to 2021. Pant got one of the loudest welcomes to the crease at the Chepauk Stadium on day one of the second Test match against England. Chants of “Rishabh Pant, Rishabh Pant” echoed around the MA Chidambaram when he walked out to bat in the 76th over. Later, when Pant was involved in a confrontation with Ben Stokes, the crowds whipped up a frenzy by chanting his name.
It might have taken about four years, but it looks like Pant is certainly winning over the hearts of Indian cricket fans.
Since his debut in international cricket in 2017, Pant has been the talk of the town from day one. He was seen as the potential replacement to MS Dhoni at that time. Post the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup when the retirement of Dhoni was being widely debated, Pant was being tried as the wicket-keeper batsman in the limited-overs set-up.
But he was not able to live up to the expectations and was also pretty ordinary behind the stumps. The fans, upset at not seeing Dhoni play for India, vented their anger on young Pant by booing him or chanting “Dhoni, Dhoni” whenever he would make a mistake.
The likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma had to come out publicly defending Pant.
“If he misses a chance, people can’t shout MS’ name in the stadium as well. It’s not respectful because no player would like that to happen. You are playing in your own country and you should get support rather than always thinking what mistake this guy is gonna make. No one wants to be in that position,” said Kohli.
Pant was evidently under-confident, because he was missing chances with the gloves and couldn’t score runs with the bat either. As a result, he lost his spot in ODIs and T20Is in early 2020 to KL Rahul who started donning the role of wicketkeeper. In home Test matches, Wriddhiman Saha was preferred because of his far superior glove-work.
But the Pant of 2021 is different. He is oozing confidence and scoring runs with the bat.
Pant’s heroics in Australia helped India win the Border-Gavaskar Trophy despite the odds. His unbeaten 89 on day five at the Gabba to take India to an improbable target of 326 made it impossible to drop Pant, no matter how ordinary his wicketkeeping was. And now against England, with two fifties in three innings, Pant has once again showed that he’s not a batsman to back away.
Yes, his wicketkeeping still needs plenty of work. But his batting has reached a whole new level. The people who used to criticise him due to his flamboyant style of batting are suddenly finding some sort of method to his madness. Likewise from a villain in the eyes of the fans to the blue-eyed boy of Indian cricket, Pant already has had quite a journey in his short career.
Hopefully, he will get only better and better with each passing year and we will get to see him in all formats soon, breaking records and making millions of fans happy.