When the Indian think-tank decided to include 'inconsistent wicket-keeper batsman' Rishabh Pant in the playing XI in place of Wriddhiman Saha following the Adelaide debacle, skeptics viewed it as an extreme reaction to the embarrassing defeat in that Test.
Rishabh Pant could have cared little though. For him, it was yet another opportunity to prove that he is something special. He had bungled numerous ones before, but if was the present that mattered. And Rishabh Pant grabbed his chances in no uncertain terms down under, perhaps learning from his experiences of the previous tour to the country, where he performed reasonably well.
In Sydney, with India under immense pressure in a massive chase, Rishabh Pant proved that his talent was no fluke. He gave the hosts a real scare before his untimely dismissal forced India to shut shop.
If SCG was a statement of bravado, Rishabh Pant went one step ahead at the Gabba and shut Australia out of the contest with a fearless display of batsmanship.
The left-hander did have his strokes of fortune. But then he also made his own luck. Rishabh Pant has paid their price of being adventurous in the past. At the Gabba, though, he and Team India would reap the rewards for it.
'Intent' has been the keyword throughout the just-concluded Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
When India endured the manic session in Adelaide, where they folded up for 36, their shabby performance was put down to a lack of intent'.
Even if one agrees that Australian bowlers came up with some unplayable deliveries in that innings, the 'intent' point still holds true. A number of Indian batsmen did perish poking outside the off stump, with their dismissals looking like a series of replays for the highlight reels.
How Rishabh Pant’s inclusion transformed Team India's fortunes
Intent is exactly what 23-year-old Rishabh Pant brought in when he came into the side in Melbourne. Even though he was dismissed for 29 in the first innings, his knock came off only 40 balls at a strike rate of 72.50.
His breezy innings took some of the pressure off Ajinkya Rahane and allowed the Indian captain to play himself in. Although it was a small contribution, Rishabh Pant’s presence made a difference to India’s fortunes at the MCG.
Cut to Sydney, where India needed 407 runs for a victory. Millions of fans were hoping India could play out a draw, which they eventually did under rather heroic circumstances. In between, though, Rishabh Pant walked in and threw his bat around as if winning was the only option.
The left-hander was playing with fire. An early dismissal off a rash shot, and the axe would have been hanging on him all over again. But Rishabh Pant backed his natural instincts and put together a rather dramatic exhibition of big-hitting.
It was far from a perfect knock. So, in a sense, it was fitting that the attacking batsman fell tantalisingly short of a century. The knock, however, was a perfect illustration of the adage - 'you live by the sword and die by it'.
Although India did not win the SCG Test, Rishabh Pant's whirlwind knock gave Team India the confidence that something special could be achieved at the Gabba, where Australia last lost a Test in 1988.
A mixture of pluck and luck
In many ways, Rishabh Pant’s match-winning 89 at the Gabba was the culmination of backing a youngster’s natural talent to the hilt. With all due credit to Wriddhiman Saha, India need a dynamic wicket-keeper batsman who can score runs. Even if Rishabh Pant fails to improve his keeping in the near future, he has done enough to stake a claim to play in the team as a pure batsman.
While every Test team needs a Cheteshwar Pujara to tire down opponents, they also require a Rishabh Pant who can grab the bull by the horns. Rishabh Pant and Pujara combined like fire and ice to keep Australia on their hooks on the final day at the Gabba.
Natural talent might be an overrated virtue. But can it be denied that some players have that x-factor others don't? Australian coach Justin Langer paid a massive compliment to Rishabh Pant after the match when he said that the left-hander's blistering innings reminded him a bit of Ben Stokes at Headingley'.
It was high praise indeed!
The 23-year-old literally took the game away from Australia. He kept India’s flame alive even when it seemed the match was slipping towards a draw. Rishabh Pant played some audacious strokes and got into ungainly batting positions at times. However, he kept believing and, in the end, pulled off a win for the ages.
Rishabh Pant’s unadulterated success in Australia is the victory of every Indian fan and the team management who backed him every time he failed and infuriated with the most careless of strokes - be it in ODIs, T20Is or the IPL.
He was as naturally talented then as he is now. The same risky strokes that were finding the fielders earlier found the gaps in Australia.
For attacking players like Rishabh Pant, there will always be a fine line between the incredible and the unremarkable, which is why they need a longer rope. For on days when their uninhibited approach comes off, history has to change its course. Ask Tim 'Pain'e!