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Buckle up, Rishabh Pant the captain is upon us

Rishabh Pant is set to lead the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2021
Rishabh Pant is set to lead the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2021
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 31 Mar 2021
Feature

On 1st February, 2016, Rishabh Pant waltzed his way to the quickest half-century in ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup history. In the process, he powered India to a dominant victory against Nepal.

Soon after the knock, Pant began being touted as a future superstar – one who was clearly destined for greatness. And as an addition to that pinch of praise, he was also being compared to one MS Dhoni. Not a lot of pressure then, eh?

Unsurprisingly, ever since that knock, Rishabh Pant has always been looked upon as MS Dhoni’s heir. Not just because both ply their trades as keepers, but also because both boast of the rare propensity to make jaws drop.

While the comparison was initially envisioned as something that would help Rishabh Pant capture the imagination of the cricketing fraternity, it morphed into something that only acted as a hindrance. For the uninitiated, crowds even chanted “MS Dhoni” whenever Rishabh Pant floundered.

Thus, there was a consensus that Rishabh Pant, despite his best efforts, had somehow managed vanish into MSD’s shadow. To be fair to him, not many would’ve escaped the ire, for MS Dhoni remains the greatest wicket-keeper batsman India has ever produced.

Over the past few months, though, Rishabh Pant has, rather resoundingly, grown out of the Chennai Super Kings skipper’s shoes. More importantly, the Delhi Capitals cricketer has managed to leave his own imprint on Indian cricket.

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Though there has been the odd similarity, he has belligerently announced his arrival on the international stage as Rishabh Pant - rather than just being the ‘next MS Dhoni’.

It seems fitting that Rishabh Pant, days after enjoying his best season of international cricket, has been bestowed with the Delhi Capitals captaincy.

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Yet, owing to his greenhorn nature and the fact that he has skippered only Delhi (in domestic cricket), the jury seems to be out on his appointment.

Plenty are fascinated as to the prospective tactics and strategies that he would bring to the fore. In blunter terms, there is growing curiosity about the kind of identity Rishabh Pant will impart on the Delhi Capitals.

However, with the Capitals’ first game still more than a week away, it might be prudent to refrain from predictions as far as Rishabh Pant's captaincy is concerned.

Rishabh Pant has always been belligerent with the willow
Rishabh Pant has always been belligerent with the willow

Rishabh Pant has divided opinion since his international debut

Ever since bursting onto the international landscape, Rishabh Pant has retained the ability to enthrall and frustrate. While the latter reigned supreme during the nascent stages of his career, the former has become the norm recently.

However, the unpredictability factor attached to his cricket has always remained the same. In fact, his proclivity to go bang or bust even led Ravichandran Ashwin to quip that Rishabh Pant always ‘keeps his teammates on tenterhooks’.

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Both Ravichandran Ashwin and the Capitals might be wise to expect that outcome. Not only because it is a trait cocooned deep inside Rishabh Pant’s psyche, but also because there is simply no sample space for his captaincy exploits.

Fortunately for the Capitals, in Rishabh Pant, they have an individual who won't be afraid to ingrain his brand of cricket on the team. Quite often, the wicket-keeper has been vocal behind the stumps and has added his two cents on how bowlers should be bowling. Now, in IPL 2021, he will have the complete authority to do so.

Ashwin will have a major role to play for the Delhi Capitals
Ashwin will have a major role to play for the Delhi Capitals

Additionally, he might not be too averse to the odd bit of advice that players of the ilk of Ravichandran Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan and Steve Smith would provide. Rishabh Pant would do well to improve his DRS accuracy though, for it seems to have caused Ashwin a fair amount of grief lately.

Most tellingly, with Ricky Ponting calling the shots in the background, Rishabh Pant will align with an individual who, just like the wicket-keeper, rarely entertains thoughts of retreating.

To those unaware, Ponting is regarded as the greatest attacking skipper of all time. And his experiences will only aid Rishabh Pant as he embarks on his own captaincy sojourn.

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Furthermore, had the Capitals opted for Ajinkya Rahane, they might’ve found themselves in a situation where the captain would’ve become a passenger. Steve Smith, meanwhile, would also have had to instantly acclimatize himself to his new environment.

Thus, there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that the decision to appoint Rishabh Pant at the helm might just be a masterstroke. Not only because he embodies the Captials’ philosophy to the tee, but also because it could have a profound effect on his batting.

Over the years, there have been countless instances of cricketers scaling an incredible upward trajectory after being handed the reins. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are two such examples. Ah, that name (MS Dhoni) again!

It is also worth noting that a lot of captains have actually succeeded with limited experience - MS Dhoni being a prime example. While it might seem a tad ironic that Rishabh Pant finds himself pitted against the CSK skipper for the umpteenth time, it might not be a bad reference after all.

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The theme (or the mantra) for this IPL is to be fearless – a trait that the wicket-keeper has in abundance. Interestingly, the pre-tournament promos also suggest that time will tell how these mantras transpire – again, an aspect that is simply too consistent with Rishabh Pant’s style.

Just like the IPL, Rishabh Pant encourages fans to expect the unexpected. It might not be too far-fetched to envisage the wicket-keeper as the archetypal personification of the upcoming edition.

Back in February 2016, Rishabh Pant was heralded as the next big thing in Indian cricket. In fact, those labels were meted out pretty prematurely, meaning that he always had to perform under the gaze of a billion eyeballs – a situation that wasn't too enviable for a youngster still learning the ropes of top-level cricket.

Even then, MS Dhoni and Rishabh Pant were regularly spoken of in the same breath, which seemed quite unfair to the latter. Now, the two behemoths of Indian cricket will stride out to the Wankhede Stadium on the 10th of April, shoulder to shoulder.

Get the latest IPL 2021 schedule here.

Rishabh Pant (L) has been incessantly compared to MS Dhoni
Rishabh Pant (L) has been incessantly compared to MS Dhoni
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As far as narratives are concerned, it seems a touch poetic that Rishabh Pant’s litmus test as a captain comes against MS Dhoni – an individual he has considered an idol. The former Indian skipper has even been the lens through which Pant has been viewed.

Rishabh Pant might be a little overawed by the occasion. He might, akin to MS Dhoni, treat it as just another game of cricket.

Pant might come out all guns blazing and pummel CSK into submission. He might make a high-profile error that leads people to draw parallels between MS Dhoni and Rishabh Pant, all over again.

A lot of conjecture, isn’t it?

What remains certain, though, is that there will be an enormous amount of entertainment. Rishabh Pant is just that sort of character – he forces everyone to buckle up and wait. Just wait, till the most improbable of sub-plots unfold.

Any other definition of Rishabh Pant the captain would be a bit of a travesty, wouldn’t it?

Also Read: MS Dhoni, Sam Curran and the dying art of finishing

Published 31 Mar 2021, 15:03 IST
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