Rishabh Pant: A victim of MS Dhoni’s excellence?
15 years ago, a bustling young lad from relative obscurity, made his bow in international cricket. With fearlessness to match his indomitable persona, that wicket-keeper soon became a darling of the cricketing fraternity. That youngster was none other than MS Dhoni.
However, as the former skipper enters the twilight of his career, one can’t help but wonder what Indian cricket would look sans MS. Thus, the search for an able successor has hit fever pitch with several names being thrown into the hat.
One individual who has featured on the forefront of several such discussions is Rishabh Pant. But, with him failing to nail down a place in the World Cup squad so far, the same people have started questioning if Pant can indeed be the next Dhoni.
So, is the wicket-keeper from Delhi an extremely overrated cricketer destined to fluff his lines? Or is he a special talent weighed down by the enormous expectations of Indians?
In 2016, Pant cooked up a gigantic storm at the ICC Under-19 World Cup when he pulverised Nepal’s bowling attack en route an 18-ball fifty. Courtesy the belligerent innings, he was on every IPL team’s radar and was picked up by Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals) at the 2016 Auction.
After initial teething problems, he had his best IPL season in the 2018 edition where he gobbled up the award for the Best Emerging Player. However, his inability to transfer his domestic and IPL run into the international white-ball circuit has led to veils of frustration throughout the country. Having been a star in the Test arena, what exactly is holding Pant back in the ODI and T20I format?
To start off with, the wicket-keeper enjoys the security of a permanent spot in the Test side. With Wriddhiman Saha out of action and Dinesh Karthik not covering himself in glory, the keeper-batsman slot is well and truly Pant’s currently. Inevitably, the extra freedom has allowed him to express himself without having to watch over his shoulder nervously.
However, the biggest cause of the discrepancy between the formats could yet be the undue pressure mounted upon the left-hander due to the presence of MS Dhoni. In Tests, the shadow of the latter doesn’t loom as large whereas whenever Pant goes out to bat in white-ball cricket, the yardsticks applied are those of one of India’s greatest ever limited-overs cricketer.
In the youngster’s nascent career, he has only played a couple of ODIs (out of 5) as the premier wicketkeeper. Additionally, of the 15 T20Is he’s taken part in, a grand total of eight have been without MS. Therefore, indicating that a true marker of his displays can’t be laid down until he’s been given a free rein.
Though the presence of Dhoni would help mold Pant as an international cricketer, the fans’ naivety in comparing the two when playing in tandem has placed a huge mountain on the Delhi boy’s shoulders.
Apart from the above reasoning, there is enough to suggest that Pant can indeed fulfill his vast potential.
Not many across the globe boast of the ability to manufacture shots out of nothing and hit sixes even when imbalanced. Moreover, with teams inclined to prioritize quick run-scoring above everything else, the wicket-keeper’s trait of striking at a good clip from the outset would prove invaluable.
While his wicket-keeping still needs a touch of fine-tuning, the potential in his skills behind the wicket makes it a worthwhile investment.
Thus, the above characteristics drive home the fact that Pant is a rare cricketer and one who could serve India well in the years to come. Yet, for that to happen, the Indians need to accord him the time and space to develop himself.
The best they can do is not look at him through the ‘MS’ lens, rather letting him find his own feet. After all, he is just 21 and only a handful have left a lasting impression by that age.
Hence, Pant’s success in the international arena could well boil down to the environment provided to him. If India scrutinizes every missed stumping and every mistimed shot of his through the above lens, the wicket-keeper would not only be playing against eleven on the field but also thousands off it.
At one point, India needs to understand that Pant can’t be the next MS Dhoni. No one can be another MS for players like that arrive once in a lifetime. Yet, Pant can be the first Rishabh Pant, carving his own niche in Indian cricketing folklore.
And with the talent at his disposal, even that wouldn’t be too bad an outcome, would it?