Few Indian cricketers have generated euphoria even before their international debut like Rishabh Pant has. The 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman thumped 972 runs in the Ranji Trophy 2016-’17, representing Delhi. His turbo-charged batting exploits, coupled with his cocksure confidence, impressed one and all. He became the fourth-youngest batsman to wallop a triple ton in first-class cricket when he smashed 308 against Maharashtra. The only other wicketkeeper to score a triple century in the Ranji Trophy, apart from Pant, is Srikar Bharat. Pant’s 48-ball hundred against Jharkhand was the fastest by any batsman in Indian domestic cricket.
Even before he set the Ranji Trophy ablaze, he scored 198 runs at an average of 24.75 and strike-rate of 130.26 in 10 matches in his first Indian Premier League season last year. Quinton de Kock, South African wicketkeeper-batsman and Pant’s Delhi Daredevils teammate, said that the Indian teenager had taken over his role of dominating bowlers and compelled him to sit back and enjoy his batting.
Pant has now been rewarded for his sparkling performances by being selected in the Indian Twenty20 International squad for a home series against England. Excerpts from an interview:
What was your reaction when you got to know that you’ve been selected in India’s T20I squad for a series against England? How did you get to know about your selection?
I was extremely elated. Each cricketer wants to play for the country and I’m no exception. I was playing the DY Patil T20 Cup when I got to know about my selection from teammates.
Were you disappointed when the selectors went for Parthiv Patel instead of you as a replacement for Wriddhiman Saha when he got injured during the England Test series?
My job is to play good cricket and leave everything else to [the] selectors. 2016-’17 was my first Ranji season and perhaps [the] selectors thought that I need more experience before being drafted into the Test team.
How did this Ranji season change you? Did you learn or discover anything new about your game? How different is it from the IPL?
The biggest learning for me in this Ranji season is to always back yourself and play to your strength irrespective of the format. Also, I had played the IPL before the Ranji, so that also came in handy as I had rubbed shoulders and interacted with world-class players. I learnt a lot by observing them and playing alongside them. That did a world of good to my confidence.
You batted alongside Quinton de Kock in the IPL and won a match for Delhi Daredevils against Gujarat Lions. Like you, he is also a southpaw and an attacking wicketkeeper-batsman. What did you discuss with him?
Quinny is a world-class batsman and wicketkeeper. I really enjoyed batting with him. In that match against Gujarat Lions, I was in my element and was batting really well, so he took a backseat and allowed me to dominate bowlers. He told me to play my natural game and take on the bowlers.
Just like you played as a batsman in the IPL and De Kock kept wickets, are you open to playing purely as a batsman in the Indian team too?
It’s a matter of great pride to play for the country. I just want to represent my country at an international level, even if I’m the 12th man in the team. There’s no preference.
Would your approach to batting and wicketkeeping in international cricket be any different from what it has been in domestic circuit?
Ye cheezein planned nahi hoti. Wo toh international cricket khelne pe hi pata lagega. (These things aren’t planned. I will know only after playing international cricket). If I feel I need to adapt or change anything, I shall do that. I don’t harbour any pre-conceived notions.
Wicketkeeping or batting – which is your stronger suit?
These days I’m excelling at wicketkeeping as well as batting. Rest, you media people should judge and tell me.
Tell us something about your triple ton against Maharashtra. They had already scored over 600 runs in their first innings. What was going through your mind when you came out to bat?
Bas ye tha ki do din bahut fielding ki hai; ab do din batting karni hai kaise bhi karke. Bas. (Just that after fielding for two days, I must somehow bat for two days. That’s it).
What about your 48-ball ton against Jharkhand? Your team (Delhi) was following on and usually, in these situations, teams try to defend doggedly and ensure a draw. But you smashed the fastest first-class ton in India’s domestic cricket history.
See, everyone has a game plan. My plan was to attack the opposition and I reckon I implemented it quite well. What is better for me must be better for my team too.
Do you make in any changes in your technique when batting in different formats?
No, no. There aren’t any major changes in my technique no matter what the format is. But if I’m making any mistake or have any technical error, I sit with the coach and seniors to iron it out.
If the situation demands, can you show restrain and dig in your heels?
Look at the Ranji Trophy game against Saurashtra. I scored 29 off 70 balls [in a bid to avoid defeat]. Uss match ko bhi dekho aap. Apni taarif main khud thodi karunga. (You must look at that match too. I feel embarrassed praising myself).
During this Ranji season, you told the Delhi coach KP Bhaskar that you wish to bat at No. 5. Is No. 5 your preferred batting slot? Will you request Indian captain Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble to make you bat at No. 5?
Look, when you’re a newcomer in the team, you cannot just dictate terms about your batting position. Only once you’re settled in the team, you can do such a thing. Being a youngster, one can only request. I requested Bhaskar Sir and he magnanimously agreed.
Who have been your childhood heroes or idols?
Adam Gilchrist and MS Dhoni. Both have performed exceptionally well over a long period of time with positive intent. At present, I’m very fond of Virat Kohli.
You love to heave bowlers over mid-wicket. I’ve also seen you flick frequently through square-leg. Which is your favourite shot?
Jis shot pe run aa jaye wohi favourite hai mera. (Whichever shot fetches me runs is my favourite). I personally like to play straight down the ground. That gives me enormous satisfaction.
You said after scoring the triple ton against Maharashtra that you don’t take off your helmet until you score a double ton. You refrain from taking off the helmet after reaching a hundred. Would that be so in international cricket too?
I said that because I had set a target for myself that I must score a double ton. Now, targets for Ranji Trophy and international cricket need not be the same. It depends on the occasion and stage really.