Rishabh Pant was on Tuesday declared the captain of the Delhi Capitals for the upcoming Indian Premier League season, capping off an astonishing three-month period for the 23-year-old. From India’s historic tour to Australia and through the home season against England, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Pant’s rise at the highest level of the game has been unparalleled.
To get a better understanding of just how sensational this phase has been for the wicketkeeper-batsman, one needs to look back at a period just before the coronavirus-enforced break last year.
On January 14, 2020, India played Australia in a One-Day International in Mumbai and the match saw Pant get hit on the helmet as he attempted a pull off a Pat Cummins delivery and got dismissed. The blow led to a concussion and he didn’t take the field in the second half of the match.
However, the bigger setback for Pant was KL Rahul taking over wicketkeeping duties in limited-overs matches from there on and cementing his place in that position. Pant didn’t make it to the XI in the ODI and T20I games in New Zealand soon after (remember this?) and after that injury in Mumbai, the next opportunity he got in white-ball cricket for India came 14 months later.
Just before the lockdown in March 2020, Pant did play the two Tests in New Zealand but could only manage scores of 19, 25, 12 and 4. Then came IPL 2020 which saw him score 343 runs in 14 matches with one half-century, at a strike-rate of 113.95 and an average of 31.18. And in the ODI and T20I series in Australia thereafter, India dropped Pant from the squad in place of Sanju Samson.
Such was the lack of confidence in Pant at that time that even for the first Test Down Under, India picked Wriddhiman Saha ahead of him. Pant had been the first-choice ‘keeper for overseas Tests for a few years and had even hit a century during India’s previous tour to Australia. But by the time that opening Test in Adelaide came around, his stocks had fallen to such a extent that the management thought of Saha as the better option to begin with.
Not being picked for the Adelaide Test was perhaps the lowest point in Pant’s young career up until then. However, the stunning turn of events in that match led to a dramatic turnaround in Pant’s fortunes. India finished their second innings at 36/9 and lost the match by eight wickets, which went on to facilitate Pant’s return to the XI. And the left-hander simply hasn’t looked back since.
He got a 29 in the second Test in Melbourne, which India went on to win comfortably. But it was in the last two Tests of the series that Pant came into his own and showed the world what he’s truly capable of. His second innings scores of 97 in Sydney, which helped India earn an improbable draw, and 89* in Brisbane, which guided the hosts to an epic series win, will be remembered for a long, long time.
Pant then carried that form to the home season against England. He got a 91 in the first Test in Chennai, an unbeaten 58 in the second, and a match-winning 101 in the fourth and final game in Ahmedabad.
His phenomenal run with the bat allowed him to make a comeback in India’s limited-overs sides and he showed sparks of brilliance as he got starts each of the four times he batted in the T20I series against England. Then, an injury to Shreyas Iyer in the first ODI opened up a spot for Pant in the 50-over format too and he grabbed the opportunity by getting scores of 77 and 78 to help India bag the series.
Pant’s stats in 2021:
6 Tests, 515 runs, avg 64.37
2 ODIs, 155 runs, avg 77.50
5 T20Is, 102 runs, avg 25.50
Pant’s ability as a cricketer, even through that tough period in 2020, was never in doubt. His shot-making has always been exceptional and his ability as a match-winner can’t be doubted. But there is a new-found maturity in his game this year, which is unmissable. He would often be criticised for playing recklessly and as coach Ravi Shastri pointed out recently, his fitness was a concern too.
However, the past three months have shown his hunger to learn and succeed. He continues to back his shots and the penchant for playing extraordinary strokes is still very much there, but all that is now complimented with a sense of surety that was missing earlier and is now allowing him to realise his full potential. And that confidence – in what is another major upside for Indian cricket – has also led to a marked improvement in his wicketkeeping.
Now, Pant’s stature in world cricket has been elevated to the next level as he takes over the responsibility of leading an IPL team. Delhi Capitals showed great promise in the last season and finished runners up, they’re eager to claim their first IPL title and have shown courage in handing over the reins to a youngster with limited experience of captaincy.
The Capitals, though, along with many other admirers of the game, will hope their skipper’s dream run continues. And as we have seen with Pant over the years, the possibility of pulling off something spectacular can never be counted out.