For now, I remember Rishabh Pant saying ‘first ball mere stomach mein laga, toh thoda sa gussa aa gaya mereko (I was hit in the stomach by the first ball [of the last over of the day] and that made me a little angry)’ and then slamming 22 runs in the five balls left in the day’s play to get to his century in the tour game.
For now, I remember Rishabh Pant dropping catches behind the wickets during the Test series and then smiling sheepishly… knowing he had messed up; knowing he could do better.
For now, I remember reading about his words in the nets while testing his fitness on the day after being hit on the elbow during the Sydney Test, telling himself, “Chal tujhe kuch nahi hua hai (come on, nothing’s happened to you).”
For now, I remember Rishabh Pant being dropped twice on his way to a magnificent 97 off 118 balls on day five in Sydney.
For now, I remember Rishabh Pant singing the Hindi version of ‘Spiderman, Spiderman’ that was caught on the stump mic and all of us chuckling at the non-stop entertainment he provides.
For now, I remember Rishabh Pant pleading for the strangest of DRS reviews and Rohit Sharma finding it hilarious standing at slips.
For now, I remember Matthew Wade, while batting, asking Rishabh Pant if he isn’t overweight.
For now, I remember the 89 not-out that took India to a historic, unprecedented win over Australia at the Gabba in great detail. The first four that was edged through second slip and gully. The missed stumping chance before he got going. The six that followed, off-balance as he so often is, and the commentators going ‘unbelievable’ on air.
Years from now, I won’t remember most of these things. Not in any great detail anyway. But I don’t think I will ever forget the four. It wasn’t even Pant’s best shot. It was a half push-half block, hit into the gap. There was no mid-off, just a straight extra-cover. The ball didn’t speed away to the boundary. Rather, it seemed to trickle to it. And that is why Pant kept running before he finally punched the air in delight. The match was won. The series was won.
On air, the commentary went like this: “It’s full, it’s down the ground, it will be at least one, Saini he’s got an injury in the groin… it goes as far as the fence. Indiaaa… incredible. Rishabh Pant is the star. India win the Test… they win the series… and they win the hearts and the minds of cricket fans all around the world. Test cricket’s heart is beating hard, it’s beating true. One of the most incredible sporting performances ever seen on Australian soil. They were down, they were out and India have risen and they have held on to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in a truly epic Test series.”
A bit like the Dhoni six (we don’t need to tell you which one, do we?), Pant’s four will be enshrined in our memories for a long, long time. We’ll play it over and over again in our minds. We’ll dream about it. We’ll imagine ourselves playing the shot. We’ll think about it every time he does well… every time he struggles. Pant and this moment are joined together in our memories forever. It was that kind of moment. It was the kind of moment that comes but rarely in one’s life, but one that you will be known by forever. It becomes your identity. It becomes you.
In the post-match conference, coach Ravi Shastri was asked about when India decided to go for the win.
“I think right from the very beginning, we had a chat, Jinks, myself, the support staff and we said let’s play normal cricket,” said Shastri. “Just play your natural game, don’t try and manufacture something. Try and set the game up more than anything else. Take it session by session and then if you get an opportunity towards the end with wickets in hand, then you can think about going for it. But the innings Gill played really set the platform and the tone because it was an outstanding innings for someone on his first tour of Australia on a bouncy Gabba track. To take on the attack, the way he did, he got the momentum going.”
Then, notice the glint in Shastri’s eye he speaks about Pant.
“And then there was Rishabh Pant. You know you can’t change his style of play. In his mind... he was always chasing. He kept looking at the scoreboard. You knew he had some other ideas.”
With him in the middle, Australia had other ideas too. For they too, remembered the 22-run over; they too remembered the 97 in Sydney. And they knew he could get the 20-run over to change the flow of the game. Australia were fearful for they knew that Pant was fearless.
In a team full of exceptional players, Pant is the maddest one around. And there is no clear method to his madness. Just a goal: to win. Just the crazy, unstoppable desire to get there. And while so many of us back home urged caution, his eyes were set on nothing but the finish line. Between those many looks at the scoreboard and his crazy desire, Australia knew they were beaten.
It reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s immortal lines in On the Road:
“...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’.”
And I, more than anything else, will remember that madness.