DUBAI: Scan the videos the BCCI social media handle puts out on Rishabh Pant’s training and you will only find balls flying in the air off his bat. That his game is built around a strong defensive technique is lost in the anonymity of the regular training sessions.
“I have got used to the fact that there will be harsh criticism even if I get a hundred in one innings and get out cheaply in the next one,” Pant told TOI with a sheepish smile as he got ready for the Asia Cup. He is aware that his reputation of being a more-brash-than-carefree cricketer precedes him wherever he goes.
Nobody in Indian cricket has had to endure as much criticism as he has done. Every praise in the surfeit of analysis comes with a disclaimer how he needs to reign himself in. Yet, he has emerged as India’s most consistent batter in at least two formats. One would have to dig really hard into his archives to find instances where bowlers could breach his defence. His dismissals have invariably come to aggressive shots.
“I understand when I get out, it might look ugly. It doesn’t mean it never pinches me. But I have learnt to embrace the fact that I play a high-risk-high-reward game,” Pant says.
He has a theory about dealing with the incessant dissection of his approach to the game. “I learn from my dismissals. But I also give myself more space now. There’s a reason I could taste some success at this level. You will not succeed every day. But you need to work towards making sure your game is working 70-80 per cent of the time.
“If you are true in your heart, then there’s nothing to be scared of because eventually things will fall in place. Every day won’t be a good day. But the trick is when you are having a good day, then you have to make it count and make sure you win the game for your team. You have to believe you can win a game on your own and you can’t let the opposition come back once you feel you are on top,” he calmly explains.
India’s history at Asia Cup
The calm in his speech belies the edge-of-the-seat thrill when he is in the middle. Pant proudly states: “I am a lot calmer now. I can feel I am making clearer decisions, have a set plan and reading the situation better. I follow people but I don’t copy them. I rather follow how people conduct themselves off the field because it reflects in your game.”
He has been around in international cricket for over five years now, has played in two World Cups in different formats and a World Test Championship final. He even got the taste of an India-Pakistan game last year.
“Whenever you play for India, nerves will always be there. It’s about how you execute your plans. For me, having nerves means you are switched on, eager and ready for a fight,” he says. Again, the carefree, happy-go-lucky strolls and fun interactions with Pakistani counterparts during practice here at the ICC Academy bely his intensity.
The two-week break after the West Indies tour helped. “Physically, it’s ok to play the amount of cricket that is scheduled. But you need to be mentally charged. If I have a break for 4-5 days, I don’t even look at my kit. But I do start practicing if it’s a longer break. Having breaks also gives you the sense of occasion when you get back on the field,” Pant says.
How India and Pakistan have fared at the Asia Cup
Has captaining Delhi Capitals and India in one series helped? “Everything has its pros and cons,” was his prompt retort. “Captaincy has helped to handle pressure calmly. It has taught me to take care of my mates. You become empathetic towards other players knowing what you would want from your captain. It’s a culture that’s being built. For me, every player is important. I don’t believe in the concept of senior-junior-youngster.”
It’s undeniable that Pant has grown to become an established part of the team. Yet, his T20I performances have not matched the other two formats.
“Every format has its charm. In ODIs, you have 10-15 balls to get set whereas in T20s, you get 3-4 balls. T20s are made for impact performances more than personal averages. Having a healthy average does help but in T20s, you need to think of making it easier for the following batter. Not everyone will get going on the same day. So, the role is to give as much cushion for the next batter. That’s why a 30-40 off 15-20 balls is precious,” Pant opines.
Pant is clearly the swashbuckling poster boy of Indian cricket. Incessant sponsor commitments and shoots have become part of his routine. And then his hunger comes to the fore. “Everyone dreams to play for their country and win games. I made my debut when I was 19 and I would like to believe I have helped India win a few games. I don’t want my aspirations to end. I always like to have one more dream to fulfill. Captaining India was a great experience that way,” Pant asserted as he whizzed off to pack his bags for Dubai.