Rishabh Pant - India's next big thing?
Human beings often crumble under pressure. Unable to maintain composure in trying circumstances, even the sanest individuals find it difficult when put under the pump. Sport is no different. Professional cricketers, and other athletes endure a shedload of mental strain throughout their careers. The amount of pressure increases significantly in mega-events and knockout fixtures when the stakes are higher. When everything is on the line, the burden of expectations is colossal.
India took on New Zealand in the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, the premier cricketing event on the globe. India restricted the BlackCaps to a rather achievable target of 240. India, with a star-studded batting order, came out to chase the modest total.
Having lost three wickets in quick succession, India found themselves in a miserable position with all the big guns back in the hut. The scoreboard read 5-3. The Indian fans were praying for a miracle to get the chase back on track.
Rishabh Pant, just 21 years of age, playing his first-ever World Cup was at the crease alongside Dinesh Karthik. Shouldered with the mighty responsibility of guiding the team across the line, the flamboyant left-hander looked calm and composed in the middle, unperturbed by the gravity of the situation.
Pant, who came into the squad as a replacement for an injured Shikhar Dhawan, looked motivated to string together a partnership with his senior at the other end. The footwork was precise as he looked keen to get on the frontfoot, defending a few balls in a valiant attempt to rebuild the innings.
He batted fluently against the likes of Trent Boult and Matt Henry bowling at the top of their potential. There was no hurry, there wasn't any confusion either. The youngster seemed to be in total control, focusing on the task at hand like a monk with a fresh positive approach.
Dispatching the occasional looseners on offer with utmost disdain, the southpaw kept the scoreboard ticking. He was well set on 32 before he got caught in the deep attempting a slog-sweep, looking to clear the ropes off Mitchell Santner. Perishing at a crucial juncture, the wicket of Pant instantaneously brought the Kiwis back in the scheme of things.
Although his maturity came under the scanner and he could not kick on with the innings, the composure he displayed when put under tremendous pressure against a top-notch bowling attack was quite remarkable.
"He is an instinctive player and did well to overcome the situation. I think the way he played after the loss of four wickets was commendable. He will look back and think yes, he could have chosen a different option in that situation and he realizes that already. I am sure he will reflect on it and come out stronger", said captain Virat Kohli, as he backed the youngster.
A youngster with a whole lot of experience
At 21, Rishabh Pant has been through all the highs and lows of a cricketing career. A promising talent from Delhi, Pant burst into the limelight after his exploits for India Under-19 in the 2016 World Cup.
The swashbuckling left-handed wicket-keeper batsman lit up the tournament with a blitzing 24-ball 78, the fastest half-century of the tournament, against Nepal and followed it up with a century against Namibia in the quarter-final. India failed to lift the title but came back with a lot of positives. The inception of Pant, being the most eminent.
Justifying his selection into the team as a middle-order batsman for the World Cup 2019, he crafted a breezy knock of 48 in India's penultimate encounter of the round-robin league phase against Bangladesh. Notably, he already has two test hundreds in his kitty, coming against the powerful teams like England and Australia in grueling overseas conditions.
Getting over the bout of criticism
The ever-smiling Rishabh has also been at the receiving end of a lot of criticism due to his shot-selection in crunch moments. He often throws away his wicket looking for the big glory shot when the situation demands sensible batting.
You live by the sword, you die by it. Your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness as well. The instinctive ability to hit the cricket ball for long distances with ridiculous ease makes him one of the most destructive batsmen of the modern generation. But on the other hand, the inability to curb his natural instinct also proves to be his demise on numerous occasions.
With a see-the-ball and hit-the-ball approach, he may not be the most consistent performers with the bat, but he surely possesses the capability to turn a game on its head. India need that X-factor during the middle overs.
With the retirement of MS Dhoni around the corner, the speculations of him being India's next permanent wicket-keeper batsman are flowing in high spirits.
Rishabh Pant is undoubtedly an invaluable prospect for Indian cricket in the long run. The potential is certainly there. The maturity isn't.
Can he become India's next big thing? Only time will tell.
Also read – World cup winners list