India’s wicketkeeper-batsman has taken the cricket world by storm with a Gilchrist-like blistering approach to decimate oppositions.
Indian wicketkeeper batsman Rishabh pant is the hottest property of Indian cricket these days. An emerging superstar is fascinating everyone in the cricket world with his flamboyance and talent complemented with some phenomenal performances and game changing innings. The 24-year old dasher made his T20I debut in January 2017 and his ODI and Test debut in 2018. He was quick to make his mark in the international cricket and was named the ICC Men’s Emerging Cricketer of the year at the 2018 ICC Awards. In February 2021, Pant was named the Men’s Player of the Month in the first edition of the ICC Player of the Month awards.
Gone are the days when wicketkeepers were chosen in Test sides primarily because of their wicket keeping abilities. Wicket keeping is a strenuous fielding position in the game of cricket because of its very high physical, mental and psychological demands. Therefore teams would ideally choose someone who was a specialist based on the wicket-keeping skills for this position. For example, Allan Knot played 95 Tests for England through 60s,70s and 80s and averaged just 31 over a long career.
In the 1990s, teams started fielding wicket keepers who were talented batsmen as well. The trend began largely with Adam Gilchrist, who was Australia’s wicket keeper in Tests and ODI’s with some extraordinary talent with the willow in his hands. Arjuna Ranatunga, the 1996 world cup-winning captain of Sri Lanka promoted his wicketkeeper batsman Romesh Kaluwitharana as opener to partner the destructive Sanath Jayasurya. Kaluwitharana palyed a crucial role in Sri Lanka’s winning campaign being an aggressive batsman upfront in the power play. The partnership gave some blistering starts to the Sri Lankans which helped them use the fielding restrictions to the fullest and drastically improved their win ratio.
Other keeper- batsmen who followed Gilchrist’s example and were fully integrated into their national sides as top wicketkeeper batsmen are Andy flower of Zimbabawe, Mark Boucher of South Africa, Moin Khan and Kamran Akmal of Pakistan, the classic Kumar Sangakara of Sri Lanka, Mahinder Singh Dhoni of India, Brendon McCullum of New Zealand and many others.
Currently the cricket world has some notable names in the wicketkeeper batsman category who contribute as much with the bat as any top order batsman. These include Quinton De Cock, Jos Butler, Jhony Bairstow, Mohammad Rizwan and this emerging star Rishabh Pant.
After the retirement of MS Dhoni , many believed it would be difficult for India to fill the void left by MS as he was instrumental in winning many matches and trophies for India over the years not only by his calm captaincy but with the bat as well. Though India has a strong bench strength and specialist wicketkeeper batsmen like KL Rahul or Sanju Samson have already announced themselves, Rishabh Pant has taken over all of them in the race, especially in Test cricket where many cricket experts already he is the best wicket keeper batsman in Test format India ever had. This is vindicated by the fact that Pant recently became the first Indian wicketkeeper to climb onto the No.6 spot in the ICC Test rankings.
It is the first time when a wicket keeper batsman from India has joined batters like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in the top ten.
Apart from this, with his glove work, Pant has already broken the record of MS Dhoni, becoming fastest wicketkeeper to 100 dismissals in Test cricket.
In December 2018, during the first Test against Australia, Pant took 11 catches, the most by a wicketkeeper for India in a Test. In January 2019, during the fourth Test against Australia, Pant became the first wicketkeeper for India to score a century in a test match in Australia. He played a big role in India’s 2018 Border Gavaskar trophy triumph where he scored 350 runs in 4 matches at an average of 58.33. He played with responsibility and also with a healthy strike rate. In the Sydney test, he scored an unbeaten 159 off 189 balls, an innings studded with 15 fours and a six, thus announcing himself to the cricket world.
Playing a home series against England, he was second highest run getter in the series behind Rohit Sharma. His confidence was widely praised by the experts. Former England captain and batting legend David Gower, while praising him, said: “Pant has extreme confidence.”
The telling example of his confidence was reverse sweeping Jimmy Anderson off the new ball in Ahmedabad.
Another impressive feat was in the Cape Town, where he scored a 100 from 139 balls and seemed to be batting on a different pitch altogether. The second highest score was Virat Kohli’s 29 of 143 balls. With that ton, he became the only Indian keeper to have scored test centuries in India, Australia, England and South Africa.
As part of ups and downs, Pant also had a tough phase in 2019-20. His performances were comparatively poor in the season and the rise of KL Rahul meant Pant slipped down the pecking order. A dismal show in the 2020 IPL season didn’t help either. He could only amass 343 runs with just one fifty plus score.
During this time, he was heavily criticized by the fans and media. Critical comparisons with MS Dhoni were often made.
But in the year 2021, Pant hit a purple patch. First he scored a match saving 97 at the SCG, then he played best cricket of his life at the Gabba and moved to 13th place in the Test rankings. He continued his love affair with the Australians. His scores of 97 and an unbeaten 89 at the Gabba to chase the target of 328 and helping his team to win another series in Australia depicted a more mature Rishabh Pant.
Quite recently in March 2022, Pant became only the 2nd wicketkeeper batsman to win player of the series award in Tests. Adam Gilchrist is the only other who has attained the feat. Pant had a fabulous outing in the 2-match Test series against Sri Lanka scoring 185 runs in 3 innings with a strike rate of 120. That’s unbelievably awesome!
In the ongoing rescheduled Test in England, Pant once again underscored his genius when he, with good support from Jadeja lifted India to 416 from 98/5 in the first innings with a blistering 146 off 111 balls.
His aggressive counter attacking style of batting is a big bonus to the Indian team, as witnessed many times already. He manages to blitz his way to the fifties and hundreds to put his team in the driver’s seat, more often than not from a tricky situation.
Despite having relatively less success in the limited overs, it\s only a matter of time when he should deliver across formats in his own Pant style of batting.
There are people who are drawing comparisons with Dhoni, but many believe, it is not a fair comparison, and Dhoni’s shoes are too big to get in there and it is too early to compare Pant with MS and only time will tell in terms of overall success.
Many observers see more of Gilchrist in Pant – taking the attack to the opposition on his own terms. A left hander, who comes out and changes the game within one session and all of a sudden takes it away from the opposition.
The bottom line is that Rishabh Pant is a player of rare abilities and reach. A blend of brimming talent and fearless approach. His journey in the international cricket might be new, but he looks very promising and the next big thing in the world cricket.
Bilal Ahsan Dar is a blogger and a cricket buff.