Rishabh Pant scored an unbeaten 100 on Day 3 of the third Test against South Africa and became the first wicket-keeper since Australia’s Adam Gilchrist to get a ton in England, Australia and South Africa. Quite a feat on its own but it was made even more remarkable when one considers that the rest of the Indian batters scored only 70 runs as the visitors crashed to 198 all out.
There was a lot of chatter about Pant coming in the final Test of the series. His impetuosity had got the better of him at Johannesburg. A bit of lip from Rassie van der Dussen and the left-hander quickly moved into ‘I’ll show you’ mode. It didn’t end well though. His wild charge down the wicket only saw him edge the ball behind the wickets and once again invited a torrent of criticism.
Some of the criticism was justified. He is a much greater player than that moment showed and it is valid for the team and the fans to expect more from him. But some felt the shot — without paying any heed to the match situation — was the sign of a batter who refuses to mend his ways. It was harsh but with a match on the line, could he have done better? Should he have done better? Should he have at least tried?
The Indian team closed ranks around him, supported him, had tough conversations and it seemed to have an instant impact. Pant’s fabulous innings when all the other batters around him, with the exception of Virat Kohli, fell cheaply was an indication that he can do better… when he wants to, when he tries, when he doesn’t get caught in the ‘natural game’ trap.
That said, the innings wasn’t very different from a regular Pant knock. His strike-rate was high throughout the innings and he stayed positive all the way. Always looking for a single, staying busy and taking the odd risk too. But the big difference was his shot selection – it didn’t seem suicidal anymore. He chose the right ball to go after and as crazy as it may sound, his false shot percentage was very low.
He didn’t play and miss a lot where almost everyone else, including Kohli, never managed to find their feet. The controlled aggression meant the SA bowlers couldn’t just stick to one line. They had to keep changing things around and that inconsistency helped Pant too. He had more deliveries to score off but one can argue he created those opportunities for himself. And that is what he does.
The allure of Pant
The batting conditions in the series have been difficult for batters of both teams. The bowlers have always had something in the wicket to inspire them and give them hope.
But Pant’s innings once again showed us why he only needs a bit of tempering for when he gets it right, the opposition has no answer to his brand of batting. His positivity is a huge game-changing asset. However, that is only true if he can consistently assign a higher value to his wicket.
Pant might sometimes feel that he has to just keep playing the big shots. His fame is built around this particular aspect of his batting. This is what people know him for. That mindset, however, is a trap. The only thing that matters, in the end, is runs – not how you got them but how many you scored.
As he has shown in his two knocks at Cape Town – he can be different and still be himself. Let us not forget the 27 off 50 balls he scored in the first innings either. With the words of Kohli and Dravid still ringing in his ears, he played responsibly. Rather, he showed he can play responsibly and by the end of India’s second innings, he might even have been wondering why the others couldn’t do the same.
If the other Indian batters had stood with Pant, India might have found themselves on the cusp of a series win. They still might win but they will now have to come up with a special performance in the first session on Day 4.
For now, we’ll all walk away thinking that if Pant could, why couldn’t the others. The answer to that question might lie in the unfettered genius of Pant and the crumbling mirage of a middle-order that hasn’t scored proper runs for a long, long time. Maybe Kohli and Dravid need to have a few ‘conversations’ with the others too.