A cricketer’s worst nightmare is when the critics start to go after him. Even a minor slip-up is highlighted, not to mention how a dropped catch or a poor shot is dissected. Rishabh Pant is going through this torrid phase now and must be starting to feel that the universe has begun to conspire against him.
Sarcastic posts targeting his failures are trending on social media; there has been sharp criticism by the team management and experts. After losing his spot in the Test playing eleven in the home series against South Africa, and with the T20 matches against Bangladesh also not going his way, the 22-year-old is feeling the heat from all quarters.
Mainly a batsman-keeper, his glovework first came under the scanner. He was promoted as a batting wonder, but the runs have also dried up. What is he is doing wrong? While he has struggled in T20s, he has cracked the format in the high-pressure Indian Premier League.
He entered the 2019 IPL after a similar low phase (after a torrid time against Australia in the final two ODIs where his keeping was poor and he didn’t score many runs), but turned it around during the league, emerging as Delhi Capitals’ second-highest run-getter with 488 runs (seventh overall).
“He was coming after poor scores. It was mainly the way chief coach Ricky Ponting handled him and gave him the space to be himself,” said former India batsman Pravin Amre, who was Delhi Capitals’ assistant coach last season. “It is also about not trying too hard; we tried to ensure he didn’t fall into the trap by coming under pressure. We tried to keep it simple, break the game into small parts.”
Amre said the key to Pant’s game is timing. “He is like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, a great timer of the ball. He has to focus on getting it right. He seems to be confused about how he should be going about it, whether to play the waiting game or his natural attacking game.”
Out of nine wins, Delhi Capitals got last IPL, Pant was Man-of-the-Match in three, including in the Eliminator against Sunrisers Hyderabad. “Most batsmen inflict maximum damage during the powerplay and death overs. Pant is equally devastating in the middle-overs, and that’s what makes him so special,” Pravin Amre said.
Ahead of the series decider, skipper Sharma had urged everyone to desist from criticizing Pant. He has seen the impact Rishab Pant can have on a game. Against the Sharma-led Mumbai Indians last season, Pant started with one run off the first six balls and then scored 50 in 17, remaining 78 not out off 27 balls. It was Delhi’s most difficult game—tournament opener, match at the Wankhede Stadium and the toss had been lost. However, Pant helped his team reach 213, to eventually win by 37 runs.
On Sunday, however, there was no respite for Pant as he flopped with the bat and made a poor DRS call as a keeper, leading to catcalls in the Nagpur stadium. During Bangladesh’s chase of 175, pacer Khaleel Ahmed bowled a short, wide delivery that Mohammad Naim tried to hit.
Pant launched an appeal for caught behind and convinced Sharma to seek a review, but replays showed the ball was clearly missing the bat. Following this, comparisons between him and MS Dhoni—known to invariably get his DRS calls right—have gone viral on Twitter. With India looking to settle on their core squad for the 2020 T20 World Cup, the team management will also be keen to get Pant back to his best, like his IPL team.