Rishabh Pant smashed seven sixes in theagainst England. But the two sixes he clubbed off the Curran brothers summed up the sheer self belief in his game.
It is the 46th over of the innings. Sam Curran is ready to face the challenge of bowling at Pant. The Surrey all-rounder looks to outfox the wicketkeeper-batsman with the off-cutter. As Curran releases the ball, just for a moment, it feels as if he has also succeeded in his endeavour. At the other end, Pant is eyeing an across the line hoick but gets it off the toe-end. As he is about to complete the shot, the bottom hand comes off the bat handle. However, he goes through with the stroke with the ball ending up in the stands, straight down the ground.
In Pant’s own world, it didn’t matter that his bottom hand came off. Meanwhile, from a distance, the bowler looked beaten and lost for ideas to counter the batsman’s 360-degree geometric skills and conviction. As Graeme Swann on commentary succinctly observed: “That’s just sheer bat speed that’s taken that all the way. Nowhere near the middle of the bat.” Such was Pant’s audacious bat speed that the willow eventually ended up right behind his head, with his eyes fixed on the path of the ball. Certainly a pose for the cameras.
The key to Pant’s pyrotechnics lies in his high back-lift and his power-packed downswing. The subsequent momentum that he is able to create helps him to land the big shots. In the IPL 2020, pace bowlers effectively countered Pant’s strengths by employing a line well outside off, which in turn forced him to reach for the ball.
In the second ODI, Tom Curran tried a similar tactical gambit off the first ball of the 47th over. From over the wicket, the all-rounder attempted the wide yorker but it turned out to be a low full toss. Even though the margin of error for a bowler in the slog overs has reduced, a low full toss is still a reliable, defensive weapon in modern day limited overs cricket. After bowling the low full toss, for a moment, Curran might have even felt that he had just escaped from being tonked for one more six. Just that he was bowling to a batsman who was in that dream zone. On expected lines, Pant carved it away for a six via point, with the bottom-hand once again coming off the handle.
With modern day bats at their disposal, once in a while we witness batsmen successfully landing the big hit despite the bottom hand coming off. However, over a period of time, Pant has made that shot the norm rather than an exception.
Pant’s bombastic 40-ball 77 wasn’t just about one-handed sixes, but he initially gauged the conditions before going for the jugular. The point can be capsulised by how he dealt exclusively in a diet of singles before shunning out his alter-ego to smack the leg-spinner Adil Rashid into the stands.
The kind of approach India’s current batting coach, Vikram Rathour, had asked from Pant a couple of years ago. “At this level it is more about your mindsets, getting your game plan right, have lots and lots of discussions on why they’re making certain decisions at whichever time they do that,” he had said in a presser. “Someone like Rishabh, he’s a phenomenal player, there’s no doubt about that. But, of course, he needs to sort out his game plans a little more. Bring a little bit of discipline to his game. All the young players need to realise that there is a fine line between fearless cricket and careless cricket.
“What the team management is asking of them is fearless cricket. Having clear game plans and playing with intent and backing your strengths. At the same time, they cannot be careless. I am sure they are smart enough to understand that. What I am saying is of course we want him to play all his shots. He needs to be fearless, because that’s what makes him special. He’s an impact player. But at the same time he cannot afford to be careless, that’s all. He needs to understand the difference between those two.” Maybe Pant is now able to strike the right balance between “fearless cricket and careless cricket”. And that is helping him to turn his immense skills into consistency.
Even though Pant seems to have added smarts to his power-hitting, the foundation stone of his game would be his conviction to carry out his fearless brand of cricket. Occasionally, his fearless approach would let him down. For instance, in the first innings of theagainst Australia, Pant tried to ramp Josh Hazlewood over the slip cordon, only to be caught at gully. But in the same Test, in India’s second innings, his cut-and-thrust skills helped India post a memorable win.
Tiger Woods had once said, “the ball has absolutely no options. It will go in”. Pant seems to have a similar enviable quality in him. The kind of self belief that could leave a lot more bowlers rearranging their facial expressions in disbelief after witnessing Pant’s bazooka hits.