We could have so easily been talking about Rishabh Pant’s poor shot selection today. By the time the wicketkeeper-batsman came in to bat for Delhi Capitals, Shikhar Dhawan and Colin Ingram had given the innings a solid foundation and the visitors were 112/3 at the end of 13 overs.
The Mumbai bowlers had not been very accurate and Ingram had punished them, showing just why he has been a valued T20 player in leagues around the world. In a sense, the stage was set for Pant to get his eye in and then, cut loose.
Instead, off just the second ball he faced, he went for an ugly hoick. Hardik Pandya had bowled a slower ball, Pant didn’t pick it up and the leading edge landed just short of mid-off. The whole stadium, even Mumbai Indians supporters seemed to let out a collective gasp of agony.
The rest of Pant’s innings showed exactly why that shot of his elicited such a response.
He scored 1 run off the first five balls and it included one defensive stroke too. Then, he took off the blinkers. His first four came off Ben Cutting – he walked across his stumps and helped the ball over short fine leg. It wasn’t a bad ball but the left-hander picked his spot. One bounce into the boundary line and he was off.
The fifth ball saw him glove it over the keeper for another four while the last ball of the over was smashed for six over deep mid-wicket. At this stage, he had 16 off 9 balls. Quick but regular by T20 standards.
Then, Dhawan got out off the first ball of the 16th over. He found the fielder in the deep and after scoring 43 off 36 balls. The general consensus in the commentary box seemed to be that the pitch wasn’t as easy to bat on as Delhi had made it seem. A few quick wickets at this stage could have changed the course of the innings.
But Pant had other ideas. He countered the wicket by going on the offensive.
15.4: It was short, it was wide and it ended up in the stands. Pant cleared his left leg and played that muscular heave of his.
15.5: Pandya countered with a slower ball but Pant had his eye in by now. He smashed it past long-off.
15.6: Now, Pant just stayed deep in his crease and waited. Pandya dropped it a little short... just a little and the left-hander pulled it for another six.
When Pant gets going, he makes the opposition nervous. With three shots, he put the pressure right back on Mumbai. The wicket was forgotten and the hosts needed to deal with a freight train running loose. From 16 off 9 balls, he moved to 41 off 15 balls with a belligerent display but even then, there was a feeling that he was just getting started.
Mitchell McClenaghan was dealt with in the same manner and then MI skipper Rohit Sharma turned to his trump card, Jasprit Bumrah. The fast bowler is a shrewd operator at all times and tends to mix his deliveries very well. His first two overs had gone for just 10 runs.
But all of that meant little to Pant on Sunday. One of the shots of his innings came off the third ball of Bumrah’s over. It was a well-directed yorker but Pant just sat deep and almost nonchalantly unleashed a helicopter shot over deep square leg for six runs. He followed it up with another four to get to his fifty off 18 balls.
The runs kept flowing as Delhi smashed 99 off the last six overs of the innings. By the end, Mumbai’s players were mere spectators. Pant seemed to have an instinctive feel of where the fielders were and he picked the gaps with ease.
He finished with an unbeaten 78 off 27 balls as Delhi amassed 213/6 in their 20 overs.
Rishabh Pant’s innings: 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 4, 1, 4, 6, 6, 4, 6, 4, 1, 4, 6, 0, 4, 1, 1, 2, 6, 6, 4, 6, 1.
7 fours, 7 sixes, 27 balls, 78 runs.
While there is so much in Pant’s game that seems like it can get better, his match-winning potential is undeniable. It’s almost like he was born to do that. But at the moment, he needs to set his sights even higher. He doesn’t want to be just good, he needs to aim for great.
T20 gives batsmen the license to go on the attack right away but such is Pant’s destructive potential that no one will begrudge him the few balls he needs to get his eye in. In Test cricket, he has shown himself to be a quick learner and maybe, he needs to take the same mindset into the shorter formats too.
“I always bat according to the situation all the time,” said Pant after the game. “Today when I came in, I had to up the ante and so took my chances. It came off tonight. Especially in T20, you have to do something different. Sometimes when bowlers cramp you for room, you got to make your own room.”
Pant’s innings also showed that perhaps India might have a new contender for the No 4 slot. A few more innings like this and the Indian selectors might be forced to look at him as not just a second ‘keeper but also as a genuine batsman.
It’s still early days in the IPL season but a good start is always welcome and that’s exactly what Pant has got. Now, just as he did against MI, he needs to make it count.