Rishabh Pant is a busy man these days, hurtling between cities, matches and multiple commitments. Much of it has to do with an impressive start to his Test career, highlighted by that remarkable century at the Oval.
But as you start the conversation by recalling the six he hit off Adil Rashid at Trent Bridge to fetch his first Test runs, he interrupts… “That six changed nothing in my life. No person can ever be judged by one shot… it’s always the kind of knocks he has played.”
Pant has been battling perceptions right from the day he exploded at the U-19 World Cup in 2016. Two productive IPLs built his reputation as a ‘todu‘ (slogger) who is best suited to the shorter formats of the game. So much so that even a prolific first-class season (2016-17), which included a triple century, was overshadowed.
His selection in the Test team for the England tour lifted a heavy rock off his heart. “That I could play red-ball cricket was important too. My childhood coach Tarak Sinha always maintained that he would not consider me an international player unless I played Test cricket,” Pant told TOI. He moved on to explain how much his maiden Test hundred at Oval meant to him. “To do it in England against such an attack was very important for me,” he claimed.
The worry that he was being perceived as a white-ball specialist got reinforced when he was picked only for the limited-overs leg of the India ‘A’ tour to England, ahead of the Test series. It was only after a couple of crucial knocks that the selectors held him back for the four-day leg of the ‘A’ tour.
“If people tag me, it doesn’t mean I have to change. I improve in my own way and always focus on that. There were no spots in the team earlier. The moment there was a vacancy, I ensured I was performing,” Pant said.
For the last year or so, comparisons with MS Dhoni and Wriddhiman Saha have been part of the Pant story. Saha’s injury opened up Test possibility for the wicketkeeper-batsman and Dhoni’s omission from the recent T20 series against West Indies has raised the opportunity quotient in that format too.
So, how does he handle the pressure now that he is being tagged as the next big hope behind the stumps for India? “I am not here to compete with anyone. For me, this phase is all about learning. I keep going up to Mahi bhai and pick up things.” About the hype on social media, he says, “Social media is a part of everyone’s life. You can’t ignore it. But I have learnt to keep off-field hype back in my room. And it doesn’t matter if you have played 500 international matches, you are bound to be nervous when you take the field and I believe that’s a good thing.”
This is where Virat Kohli and the seniors in the team come into play. They have helped him in this battle with tags and perception. “Virat bhaiya told me that playing 50 matches doesn’t mean you are experienced. A person with three-four games can be equally experienced if he picks up from others’ mistakes.”
With an India place in all three formats a strong possibility, Pant could be in for a busy time. In two day’s time, he will be off to Australia for what could be a gruelling tour. And a busy schedule means players don’t get enough time nowadays to prepare for such a tour. Pant, though, is not perturbed. “Ravi sir (coach Shastri) is constantly in touch over the phone. He keeps talking to me about the conditions and how cricket is played in Australia. Rohit (Sharma) bhaiya has told me to give myself some time to settle and then play my game. Mentally, I am already there.”
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