At the Gabba, Rishabh Pant’s bat obeyed him as if it was an extended limb. Josh Hazlewood bowled a low full-toss outside his off-stump, and Pant punched it towards long-off.
What one saw next depends on which team you supported. To an Australian supporter, the ball raced towards the ropes. And if you an Indian fan, the ball seemed to crawl.
Rewind ten years, a clean thwack off MS Dhoni’s willow over long-on at the Wankhede brought Indian cricket one of its greatest moments.
MS Dhoni’s aerial hit froze the time before the delirious ride. Rishabh Pant’s punch played with viewers' pulses before finally releasing the anxious energies. (Reminiscent of Dhoni's batting, isn't it?).
Pant would gift India its greatest cricketing moment in Test cricket. Like in 2011, we don't know if Ravi Shastri screamed in the dressing room: "And Pant finishes off in style!"
A draw or defeat wouldn’t have taken anything away from the courageous efforts of Indians. But Pant’s approach etched a remarkable chapter in the cricketing annals.
For Rishabh Pant, the journey has been far from easy. If you're a wicketkeeper-batsman from India, there's no escaping the colossal shadow of MS Dhoni.
But first came the comparisons with Adam Gilchrist, arguably the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman. You could not escape that if you were a left-handed opener against the white ball and a wicketkeeper.
Five years ago, an 18-year-old Rishabh Pant would evoke memories of Gilchrist with his effortless clobbering of bowlers as an opener in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup.
From being termed the next Adam Gilchrist to being declared the rightful heir to MS Dhoni's legacy, Pant drew applause and flak. His career until the historic Brisbane Test ranged from the extremes of delight to disappointments of unfulfilled expectations.
After Brisbane, Michael Clarke believed Pant’s batting approach had a mix of Adam Gilchrist and MS Dhoni. A sound observation considering his flair, unorthodoxy, solidity, and ability to shoulder responsibility.
How about a comparison?
Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni and Adam Gilchrist after 16 Tests
Adam Gilchrist’s career break-up in first 16 Tests
Adam Gilchrist's played 15 of his first 16 Tests as a part of Australia's remarkable 16-Test winning team under Steve Waugh. He was almost 28 when he made his Test debut, and it took him just 16 months to play his first 16 Tests.
Gilchrist, by then an ODI star and a World Cup winner, would immediately make a mark in Tests. In his second Test, he slammed an unbeaten 149 in Australia's successful chase of 369 at Hobart against the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq. When he walked in to bat, Australia were 126 for five.
His second Test hundred came against India at Mumbai during the historic Test series in 2001. Coming in at 99 for five, Gilchrist slammed a 112-ball 122 to change the Test's course.
His 16th Test was the iconic Kolkata match where VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh broke Australia’s streak. It was Gilchrist’s first taste of Test defeat.
MS Dhoni’s career break-up in first 16 Tests
MS Dhoni was 24 when he debuted in Tests. A year-old into the ODI setup, he had taken the cricket fraternity by storm. More suited for white-ball cricket, Dhoni showed promise against good bowling attacks in the longer format. It took Dhoni 17 months to play his first 16 Tests.
His authoritative 148 in Pakistan was the highlight of this early phase. He didn’t do too well in West Indies and South Africa though.
Rishabh Pant’s career break-up in first 16 Tests
Unlike Dhoni and Gilchrist, Rishabh Pant didn't enjoy the luxury of a permanent slot in the XI even though he did well enough to merit a spot solely as a batter.
At age 20, Rishabh Pant debuted in August 2018 at Nottingham. Within his first five months and seven Tests, Pant registered centuries in England and Australia – a first for any subcontinent wicketkeeper-batsman.
Despite his batting shows, Rishabh Pant would often struggle to find a spot in the XI due to Wriddhiman Saha’s better wicketkeeping skills and lost out on six Tests (of which five came at home).
It took Pant 29 months to play 16 Tests. Unlike Gilchrist, who played 11 of his first 16 Tests at home, Pant just played two. That has impacted his career average.
Rishabh Pant’s numbers against quality fast bowling set him apart. And his numbers in Australia reflect the same. In 12 innings, his lowest score is 23. And he has combated Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, and Josh Hazlewood with relative ease.
Not many realise that neither Dhoni nor Gilchrist had made their international debut at Pant's age.
At 23, Gilchrist was switching states from New South Wales to Western Australia to find a regular spot in the playing XI.
Rishabh Pant was 21 when he slammed his second Test hundred and his first in Australia. At that age, MS Dhoni, a First-Class cricketer, was still working as a ticket collector at Kharagpur station. And for all his greatness, MS Dhoni has no international centuries outside the subcontinent.
Rishabh Pant is a potential great who has begun his sprint towards a legacy. All he needs is better support, which he has earned after Sydney and Brisbane.