At 25, Rishabh Pant has years of top flight cricket left in him. He batted from start to finish during the nets but a place in the playing eleven still looks like a distant reality.
Both are at different stages of their lives — Karthik doing some special ‘blind drills’ so that people don’t criticise his keeping in what could be his last big tournament.
While gathering a powerful throw, he seemed to be in pain and took off his main gloves and looked at his ‘inners’.
In the case of Pant, there was passion and anger of a youth in his batting session as Rahul Dravid spent the maximum time looking at his batting.
At times he treated Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj with utter disdain. At other times, he played and missed but didn’t leave the nets.
On one of the coldest days in Perth, the focus of India’s net session was Karthik’s unique keeping drills under supervision of fielding coach T Dilip.
Blind Drill is a specific keeping exercise done to increase alertness as keepers get blindsided by batters when the ball comes to them at the last moment.
How does it works?
Dilip kept a couple of red and white markers at least four feet apart and put a white towel on them. As Karthik crouched behind the imaginary stumps, Dilip from the other kept an inclined plane used for giving sharp catches and hit the balls between the two road markers and in a manner that it gets deflected by the towel.
The towel is like a batter, who is covering the ball, and even if he misses it, the keeper would get a sight of the delivery at the last moment.
This training is specially done to get the reflexes in order if someone like Axar Patel, who bowls his deliveries at a quicker pace beats the bat.
Karthik had missed an easy stumping chance against the Netherlands as could watch the ball only when it had come near him at the last moment.
The drill has two-fold benefits – it helps in making the reflexes quick and improves footwork.
The second set of the drill was with the big kit-bag after removing the marker.
Now Dilip was hurling the ball down the leg-side and a crouched Karthik needed deft footwork even if he was wrong-footed and gathered the wide leg-side balls when bowlers loose their line.
Later, Karthik practised catches off awkward edges.
Here, the team used a special rubber bat with rough and rugged edges. The moment the ball hits those rugged cuts, it could fly in any direction – inside edge, outside edge, lob on-front or just nosedive.
It was mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton, who batted left-handed during the drills.
In fact coach Rahul Dravid had instructed net bowlers (spinners) to bowl fast and quick into the stumps when Karthik was keeping.
“We got an instruction from Indian coaches to flight it less and bowl fast and keep it within stumps without much turn for Karthik to keep. We are not used to bowling this quick in Grade cricket but it was good fun,” said one of the net bowlers Khilesh.
As Karthik did his drills, Pant batted and batted at the other nets.
One could gauge he is hurting. You are not a champion player if you are not hurt by snub.
After the two-hour session, when everyone thought he was packing his kits, he took out his keeping gear and asked Nuwan Senaviratne to give him throwdowns for another 15 minutes.
It seemed he didn’t want to leave the Optus Stadium even if the temperature was around 10-12 degrees.
He obliged the selfie hunters as well as the journalists. Shook hands with familiar faces and exchanged pleasantries. But it was clear, he was hurt at being left out of the playing XI.
“Rishabh bhai open kaarlo, India ki zindagi badal jayegi,” a fan shouted from the other side of the fence. Rishabh looked back and started walking.
Even though he wants to open, but is the team management listening?
Chairman of selectors Chetan watches training from distance
The chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma was present during the optional training session but quietly watched proceedings from a distance.
Unlike some of the series after he had become the coach, Sharma wasn’t seen voluntarily entering the nets or talking to the bowlers.
Rather he chose a safe distance behind the fast bowler’s bowling mark and watched coaches Rahul Dravid, Paras Mhambrey and Vikram Rathour monitor the session.
Once the practice was over, he was seen sharing a laugh with Karthik as they walked back.