The Quinton de Kock roadmap for Rishabh Pant
Delhi Daredevils vs Gujarat Lions
Delhi bowlers restrict Gujarat to a par total of 150 and opt to go all out by sending Quinton de Kock and Rishabh Pant at the top of the order. The two dynamic, flamboyant wicket-keeper batsmen, known for their belligerent stroke play and aggressive intent, decimate Gujarat with a scything attack.
Most of it came from India’s under-19 hero, Pant, who had previously slammed a magnificent hundred in the under-19 World Cup the day he was bought in the IPL auctions for a mesmerising INR 1.9 crores. The young lad finished on 69 off 54 balls while de Kock, his senior partner and well-known marauder at the top of the order, was dismissed on 46.
A year later, Pant slammed 97 against the same team, walking out at no.3. This time, the knock involved nine gigantic hits over the fence and Delhi did not need de Kock to chase down the 200+ total.
Pant, though, hasn't hit the same vein of form post his IPL 2017 antics. He made 366 runs in 14 matches in the tournament at a strike rate of 165.61. But his last few scores across formats read: 7, 15, 1, 2, 67, 15, 46, 11, DNB, 20, 60.
Those aren't the kinds of numbers that would get him a place in the current Indian line-up that is overloaded with batting options. Besides, the fact that he is a wicket-keeper puts Pant in direct competition with the legendary MS Dhoni. Of course, he could play as a batsman alone but these numbers wouldn't put him on the team sheet ahead of the likes of Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey or Dinesh Karthik.
Similarities in early career
Incidentally, Pant’s early career has an uncanny resemblance to that of Quinton de Kock's. Both made their names as exceptional young talents and shot to fame in the under-19 World Cup - Pant with an 18 ball half-century, the fastest in the tournament, and de Kock with scores of 95 and 126, albeit four years earlier.
By the time de Kock turned 21, he had not only gotten into the Proteas squad but had also smashed four ODI hundreds. IPL fame came soon enough but de Kock loved batting at the top for the Proteas and made use of every opportunity that came his way.
Pant, on the other hand, followed up his under-19 World Cup exploits with a fabulous triple hundred in the Ranji Trophy in the 2016/17 season and displayed his Sehwag-like instincts with a 48 ball hundred in the same season.
Lack of consistency and workaround
While his First-class numbers have soared, in 18 List A games, Pant hasn't managed a century and averages a meagre 21.06. In T20s, he has fared better, even managing to get a couple of international caps. However, he is nowhere near the national setup anymore and several others have jumped ahead of him in the queue in the past few months.
What worked for de Kock but isn't working for Pant is consistency. It is worth remembering that de Kock was also dropped from the national side after struggling to create an impact in his first few games but he worked hard to make it back into the fold. He initially found the going difficult on slow wickets and against spinners, meaning that his franchise success wasn't replicated early on, on the biggest stage.
According to his coach, Geoffrey Toyana, de Kock needed to work hard to complement his natural talent and he did exactly that. “Quinny realised what it would take to make it at international level and he was willing to put in the hard yards to get there," Toyana had said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo. "He really wanted it."
The South African keeper turned into a person who hated leaving the nets. He practised day in day out to improve his mindset and skills.
“It was about having a game plan, because in the past, sometimes I didn't have that. I didn't change too much - maybe I was a little tight - but it was more about having plans,” de Kock had revealed in a chat with ESPNCricinfo way back in 2013.
He did that with aplomb. In the next few years, de Kock would go on to dominate the cricketing world with some mind-boggling knocks, not just in ODIs but across formats.
This year, he won the South African Cricketer of the Year, Test Cricketer of the Year and ODI Cricketer of the Year accolades at CSA’s annual awards.
The lesson for Pant
Pant is, no doubt, the future of Indian wicket-keeping but like de Kock once did, he needs to put his head down and develop a rock-solid technique to truly unlock his stunning shot-making abilities. That he has the class, flair and elegance to make it to the squad is not up for debate, but Pant needs to mature and soon.
He has watched de Kock at close quarters, having shared the dressing room with him at Delhi Daredevils, and knows quite well what he can bring to the table. The focus should remain on consistently being able to produce innings of substance. The success of de Kock rests in the fact that he has time and again set the stage alight with his spectacular bat.
Even his keeping has improved by leaps and bounds and one-handed stunners from the Proteas keeper are pretty common. Pant needs to ensure that while he nurtures his abilities in front of the stumps, the ones behind don't take a backseat.
“Quinny is a world-class batsman and wicketkeeper. I really enjoyed batting with him. In that match against Gujarat Lions, I was in my element and was batting really well, so he took the backseat and allowed me to dominate the bowlers. He told me to play my natural game and take on the bowlers,” Pant had said in an interview as revealed by Scroll.
It is ‘playing the situation’ that Pant needs to improve on. He can go on and on about playing the natural game but like his mentor Rahul Dravid states, “This concept of 'play your natural game', which I hear all the time, frustrates me because there's no such thing in my belief as 'natural game.' It's only about how you play different situations.”
The role of selectors and team composition
Selectors and team composition have no doubt helped de Kock's progress on the big stage. The youngster came in at a time when South Africa were struggling to fill the void left by Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher. Recognising his talent, he was picked and given full license to go hammer and tongs. He had the mature head of Hashim Amla at the other end, guiding, chiding and instilling confidence in him all the time.
Pant, on the other hand, has to ward off quite a few competitors to get into this tightly packed, talent-oozing Indian batting line-up. While he did get a chance in T20s, it is strange that he was dropped after just a couple of games. Confidence plays a major role in the development of such talents and the selectors need to understand that Pant needs as much of that as he can get.
On his day, he is as good or even better than de Kock, but those days have been few and far between. Pant may as well get a roadmap from the South African and follow that to the dot. His journey is unlikely to vary a lot from de Kock's.