The gloom of the English weather paled in comparison to the gloom on the Indian faces at Edgbaston as the visitors were off to a rather turbulent start on Friday morning in the rescheduled fifth Test. However, Rishabh Pant did what Rishabh Pant typically does in the final match of an away series to score 146 off 111 deliveries and propel India to 338/7 on stumps Day 1.
Since vice-captain Pant took on the onus, and produced one of the counter-attacking innings by an Indian away from home, the playing conditions started to brighten up. So did the faces in the Indian dressing room. And when he raised the bat after scoring his fifth Test century off a mere 89 deliveries, he not only made the English crowd to stand up in appreciation, but also compelled an otherwise composed Rahul Dravid celebrate in an ecstatic fashion.
It is what Rishabh Pant does.
On another day, we could be waxing lyrical about Ravindra Jadeja who eventually finished the day on an unbeaten 83, being part of a 222-runs sixth-wicket partnership off just 239 deliveries to aid India’s recovery. But the day well and truly belonged to Pant and his brand of Test match batting.
The trademark one-handed colossal six off Jack Leach, the tumble down after scoring a boundary and Joe Root’s off-spin bouncer being pulled to the boundary – the classic genre of madness that Pant is known for, was all on display against the home side.
And so, if England’s brand of cricket, coming off a mighty impressive 3-0 clean sweep against World Test Championship title-winners New Zealand, was deemed fearless, the sheer audacity during Pant’s 111-ball stay sent them a reminder that he’s been doing that for a while now.
Walking in under pressure
While James Anderson (3/52) caused damage in the morning with the early wickets of Shubman Gill (17) and Cheteshwar Pujara (13), Matthew Potts (2/85) dismissed an uninspired Virat Kohli (11) and a nervy Hanuma Vihari (20) after lunch.
At that point, India seemed to be in a world of trouble but the two southpaws, Pant and Jadeja, gave the innings new energy. By moving forward and slamming Anderson to the ground early in the innings, Pant had already begun to declare that he was not one to be intimidated even as his team was on the backfoot. In fact, that’s where he thrives.
But it was when captain Ben Stokes (1/34) made the risky decision to pass the ball to left-arm spinner Jack Leach (0/71) that Pant seemed to be truly liberated. Scoring 59 runs off him, including seven boundaries and three sixes, Pant punished England’s lead spinner and ensured the pacers had to do the hard yards.
And then he sent England’s plans into total disarray when he started to take on the pacers as well. According to CricViz, England’s pacers were being easily hit off good length deliveries and punished further when bowling full or short. In a nutshell, there wasn’t a particular area or plan that could stop him. The unpredictability and dynamism that underline his shot selection can make life difficult for even bowling attacks like England’s.
“Specially in conditions like in England where a bowler is trying to pitch in consistent lengths, then it becomes important to disturb that, that is my opinion,” Pant said in the press conference after the day’s play. “So I keep trying not play the same type of cricket, to mentally affect the bowlers’ plans. I try to step out, sometimes go on the backfoot, using the crease well... this is what I keep trying, and things happen.”
Eventually, it was the off-spin of Joe Root (1/23) that Pant succumbed to but it wasn’t before scoring the fastest century by an Indian keeper in men’s Test cricket. The left-handed wicket-keeper now has five centuries in Test cricket in his 51 innings and has registered most of his best innings against mighty oppositions, in unfamiliar conditions away from home, with minimal compromise on his approach.
Rishabh Pant’s significant away Test scores:
114 - Oval 2018
159* - Sydney 2019
97 - Sydney 2021
89* - Brisbane 2021
50 - Oval 2021
100* - Cape Town 2022
146 - Birmingham 2022
His shot-making maybe unconventional but his unique selling point in many of these innings overseas, and particularly the one on Friday, is that there definitely is a method to the madness.
Pant may score most of his runs with eye-catching and bizarre shots but it doesn’t come without the solid defence. He is not the player that will take you through with mere stonewalling because the shots are most likely to sneak in, but he exudes great confidence in his defence too. For instance, against Anderson, who he seemed to play out with respect (relatively speaking), he scored just 19 runs in the 24 balls that were bowled to him.
In the press conference after the knock, he remembered how his coach Tarak Sinha told him that his attacking game was never going to be an issue, so work on defence always... a mantra that has held him in good stead, from Oval 2018 to Edgbaston 2022.
There was a justified concern with respect to the Indian batting line-up before this Test. Virat Kohli’s prolonged lean form was no news, Cheteshwar Pujara’s efforts were not reaping the results for quite some time before his County success, and Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul’s absence only added to the concerns.
But here was Rishabh Pant, sending out a timely reminder that he can be banked upon in red-ball cricket. Time and again.
So, when talks about the future of Test cricket and the changed priorities of cricketers arise again, one can come back to Harsha Bhogle’s words on air, to applaud Pant for the sublime ton against an inspired English team: “What a player this young man is. He will play the orthodox game, suddenly do something audacious, but he will ensure that you never ever stop watching this great game of ours.”
Watch highlights of Pant’s innings: