Rishab Pant: The unexpected virtue of transience
“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” - Aristotle.
What some might construe as madness is just another thing that is beyond their realm of comprehension. For, there is nothing in this world that cannot be explained when you put in your blood, sweat and tears.
Nothing, that is, barring the approach of Rishab Pant in IPL 2018.
Much like the player himself, let's not get bogged down by mere numbers. Incredulous as they may be, there is something that makes watching Pant in this tournament fascinating. A kind of glimpse into the mind of a savant, who knows exactly what he needs to get the job done. A glimpse, some may say, into the workings of a young mind, that is, as yet, unsure of the dizzying heights it could eventually reach.
There are many golden rules in sport, broadly speaking, and cricket in particular. But there is one that every layman, commentator, coach and player would swear as being the gospel truth. The ineluctable reality of what it takes to shine, brighter than the mid-day sun and into the dying night.
Let's clear the air first. Stability is not to keep things steady, keep the scoreboard moving and not lose wickets; words that are often uttered by every cricket commentator worth his salt. No, I am talking about having a stable base. A foundation from which you build and go about taking a single with a deft dab to cover or an almighty slog sweep over cow corner that ends up in the welcoming arms of the delirious fans in the crowd.
For this is not just some theory that is marked in bold letters in "How to Cricket 101" and repeated by every coach who has ever played the game, or every commentator who hasn't. This is backed by solid science. The biomechanics are there for all to see. A stable base gives you the necessary power to wind-up and achieve the perfect bat swing.
It all begins with the wind-up. The power you command is directly proportional to the force you generate with the willow and that in turn, depends on having a firm yet flexible foundation that affords you the luxury of doing just what you want.
But one look at the 20-year-old southpaw's knocks this season will tell you that he has not only torn apart the cricket manual that most modern batsmen fail to conform to these days but also created a brand-new one that is seemingly oblivious to the laws of physics, power and biomechanics that everyone wants to emulate.
The number of times that Pant is falling away to his right and ending on the floor is ridiculous. Surely no batsman who is on the floor as often as he is could ever have a technique that is working. After all, if being on the floor is the pre-requisite for success with the bat, then most tail-enders should be better than Don Bradman.
If you are falling over constantly then that merely implies that you don't have a solid foundation on which to fall back on. That, in turn, significantly reduces just how successful you are going to be as a batsman. But this is where Pant created an idiosyncratic image of what it takes to be successful.
For the numbers don't lie. Only four batsmen have scored more than he has and not one of them has done it at a quicker rate than the southpaw. So what is seemingly so wrong to the naked eye is so right for Pant that he has continued to be amongst the runs.
Perhaps some of that has to do with the power that he generates. For a diminutive batsman, Pant seems to get an awful lot of power into his shots. Just take a look at this one that he managed against CSK, where he scored a 45-ball 79 to almost take his side over the line chasing 212.
A length ball on middle stump has been taken to the boundary courtesy of a paddle shot but to leave it right there would be as crude as calling an artwork from the Museum of Modern Art a nice painting.
That was a ball that was there to be hit. With fine leg and third man, Pant did have a couple of options. But what he eventually did to that ball, shuffling across to the off-side and just paddling it away past short fine leg off the inside part of the bat while falling over on his backside, just highlights how idiosyncratic he has made batting look this season.
That shot, in essence, is a microcosm of just what he has been doing this season. While his shots have been innovative and filled with plenty of power, they pale in comparison to the way in which he has made a mockery of the need for a stable base, finding the right balance and placing emphasis on stability.
His shot against RCB will go down as arguably one of the shots of the tournament. He not only had the nerve to try a scoop shot over short fine leg, a shot he hitherto hadn't played, but also had the presence of mind to reverse that scoop and flick it over short third man and pocket a boundary, all the same.
Here's a closer look at what he just did there.
There have been countless examples this season of Pant just ripping apart the playbook that batsmen have sworn by for decades. Perhaps he has secretly stolen Mjölnir and pulled a fast one on everyone by using that as his bat. But one thing that has been a constant has been his ability to reach the ball.
For someone who stands at just 1.7m, his ability to reach the ball and hit it to where he wants is remarkable. The below picture is a beautiful illustration of how he uses the crease and his hands to get to the ball and deposit it over the stands.
So, here we have a 20-year-old who can virtually reach any ball, hit it to anywhere and manufacture shots that few would even dream of thinking let alone attempting. Someone who has no regard for the laws of physics, quashes the fundamentals of biomechanics that everyone swears by and yet is seemingly more consistent than he has ever been.
How do you explain that? Well, that's the thing about genius, you rarely can. You might want to dismiss it as madness but what is madness but just another thing that is beyond your realm of comprehension?