Haridwar's 19-year-old cricket sensation Rishabh Pant has always been eyed as one for the future but the way he has performed in the ongoing Ranji Trophy campaign has taken everyone by surprise. The supremely talented Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman impressed at the Under-19 World Cup and proved that he can handle international level bowlers as well with his 40-ball 69-run knock against then table-toppers Gujarat Lions during the 2016 IPL, but it is the way he has matured since that bodes well for the future of Indian cricket.
Pant has been compared to former Indian opener Virender Sehwag due to his swashbuckling style of play as well as with the obvious Delhi connection. His 326-ball triple century against Maharashtra made him the third-youngest Indian and the fourth overall in the list of first-class triple centurions and just a few weeks later, he smashed the record books scoring the fastest ever century in Indian domestic first-class cricket bringing up his three-figure mark from just 48 balls.
Scoring big hundreds at a brisk pace – a trait Sehwag mastered during his international career and there is no doubt that Pant has the necessary talent to develop into a future Indian star and with someone like Rahul Dravid grooming him at the Under-19 level at now for the India A side and Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, the future certainly looks bright for Pant.
Pant’s Under-19 heroics
While people have been drawing comparisons between Pant and Sehwag, it is no surprise that the 19-year-old’s idol being a wicketkeeper-batsman is Australia’s Adam Gilchrist – the best ever in his position in the history of the sport. Hailing from Roorkee in the Haridwar district of Uttarakhand, Pant’s childhood coach Tarak Sinha insisted him to move to India’s capital city more than four years ago if he really wanted to prosper as a cricketer and it has turned out to be one brilliant move.
Pant quickly rose through the ranks for Delhi at various age-level tournaments and made his first-class debut in October 2015. Though his debut for the senior side was not a memorable one, his consistent performances in the Under-19 series that featured Bangladesh and Afghanistan not just helped him earn a spot in the Under-19 World Cup squad, but he did so as the side’s vice-captain.
While skipper Ishan Kishan flopped under the immense pressure, Pant lit up the tournament with his blazing knocks – first his 24-ball 78 against Nepal which saw him score the fastest ever Under-19 international century bringing up his fifty off just 18 balls and later powered India to the semi-finals with a century against Namibia. The day turned out to be even sweeter for Pant as he was picked up for a whopping Rs 1.9 crore by Delhi Daredevils for the 2016 IPL season.
Finding success in the IPL
The immense pressure that came with the hefty price-tag did take some getting used to, but Pant slowly but surely showed the Delhi Daredevils that he has the potential to mix in with established cricketers and leave a mark of his own. He failed to make any meaningful contributions in his first couple of games, but in the next game against the Suresh Raina-led Gujarat Lions, who were then leading in the IPL points table, Pant made sure that everyone took notice of him.
Asked to open the innings after a string of poor starts for DD had left them reeling in the standings, Pant brought up his maiden IPL fifty off just 25 balls and went on to score a 40-ball 69 thus helping side comfortably chase down a target of 150 with eight wickets in hand.
Following his heroics at the Under-19 World Cup, India’s leading sports management group, Professional Management Group (PMG) had signed the youngster for a five-year-period and with his knock against the Lions, Pant proved that he was not going to let his head turned by lucrative offers or big money on offer.
Pant made a few more useful knocks up top for Delhi and ended his maiden IPL campaign with a respectable average of 24.75 scoring two runs short of 200 in his ten matches.
Stellar start to the 2016/17 Ranji Trophy campaign
Pant has looked like a man on a mission in the Ranji Trophy season so far starting off with a knock of 146 runs against Assam in the season opener. His words echoing disappointment after that innings showed how hungry Pant was to prove a point.
“Only hundreds don’t work in cricket these days,” Pant said at the time. “I got out on 146 in the last match. What’s the difference in getting out immediately after a century or after crossing 150? In today’s world, a value of a century is not much. You need double hundreds to get noticed.”
Aiming for a double hundred, Pant went one better scoring the triple-century against Maharashtra in his very next outing that has got everyone talking. Scoring his runs at a blistering strike rate of 94.47, and studded with 42 fours and nine sixes, the 19-year-old showed maturity beyond his young age.
But Pant was not done yet. In the match against Jharkhand, he smashed centuries in both innings, first a knock of 117 off 106 balls followed by the record-breaking knock in the second innings where he eventually went on to score 135 runs off just 67 balls.
He is by far the leading run-scorer in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season, and the only way his stay at the top could get affected is if he gets a call-up to the national side. In the limited-overs, MS Dhoni is in the twilight years of his career and Test wicketkeeper Wriddhimann Saha and the other senior contender for the role – Naman Ojha – is by no means young. And with the current team management’s desire to give preference to youth, it would not be a surprise to see Pant get a call sooner rather than later.
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The numbers are keeping on getting more impressive with every passing tournament and Pant is clearly destined for a shot at the Indian national side, and if he continues with the rich vein of form that he is in at the moment, a call-up is just around the corner.