When Rishabh Pant walked out of a funeral and walked into manhood
Pant's battle through the pain and pity of losing his father and losing the game, respectively, showed the kind of mettle he was made of.
My father summons me to the dining table to have supper. I don't bat an eyelid, hardly crane my neck and yell with sufficient volumes of impunity that I'd have it on the couch, where I was comfortably seated, watching the Delhi Daredevils make potholes out of a highway to an easy win.
At the fall of the third wicket, with 100-odd runs still needed off 13 overs, the sympathy with which the television screen was flooded all of a sudden made me turn around and have a lopsided look. I watched him quietly slurping his porridge, alone, with utter simplicity plastered on his face.
I watch Rishabh Pant walk out, his short but stout figure emanating straight from his father's funeral on the previous day, and occupy the crease. I turn round for the second time, and a part of me urges to move my bottom and seat it next to my father's. I stay put, though, knowing that he's there, knowing that he'll be there. What if I knew that he wouldn't be? Karma forbid, but what if I knew he wasn't?
Pain does different things to different people. It may make assassins out of priests, mavericks out of scoundrels, as it may make cowards out of soldiers. But, pain hurts, it hurts notwithstanding, it hurts nevertheless. What do you do then? If you're Pant, you walk out with numbness on your face, the look of the Buddha, only a bit human, sink to your knees on the very first ball, but only to smash it out of the ground.
"Rishabh Pant has arrived,” exclaims Ravi Shastri on air, and so he has, walking straight out of his father's funeral, into the legions of manhood. Death glorifies the victim and their kin like no other thing. It is easy to praise a dead man than the one who's walking and adding to the reasons behind your habit of self-loathing. It also ushers in large volumes of sympathy and solidarity when all the victim might actually need is solitude.
And solitude it was for him, albeit in the middle of a packed Chinnaswamy Stadium, with every brick of it rooting for his dismissal. At times, life throws your way boulders disguised as lemons. What do you do when that happens? You go numb. You stop feeling and play shots in the dark. Pant's innings, however heroic it might have been, looked as if it was played out of the pure urge to seek numbness amidst the cauldron he'd chosen for himself.
Hence, after being smashed for a first-ball six, Iqbal Abdullah darted two bullets way outside Pant's off-stump. The left-hander could have reached out for it, but didn't. He didn't even shuffle, didn't bother to play a false shot or have a go at it. He was content with the extra run, a solitary run. Perhaps he knew well that the fast-track foolhardy nature of T20 cricket pays little head to the value of s single. Singles bought him time, the time he'd be better off with than without.
Tymal Mills had bowled Yuvraj Singh in his maiden IPL game. He had bowled Aditya Tare in this one and made sure the batsmen knew with his in-your-face send-off. He would have loved to do the same to Pant – brash, in-your-face, ready-to-bite farewell to a man who'd already had a farewell big enough. Mills darts one short, deceptively short with no pace. Pant takes his eyes off the ball, but not before having watched it approach his chin, and cross-bats it towards square leg for his first boundary.
He shuffles in his crease and completes a 360-degree rotation by the time the shot is completed. He completes a full circle. The same could possibly have been said of his life.
In the next over, Sanju Samson, Pant's partner at the other end, and the last of the recognised batsmen makes sure that Pant doesn't get his solitude, doesn't get his peace, as he launches a short ball straight to Stuart Binny at long-on.
Binny almost pulls off another one, with his superman-like leap at the deep square leg boundary, when in the next over, Shane Watson's short ball takes Pant's top edge and just garners enough strength to kiss the fielder's fingers and smash into the advertising board.
What if Binny had taken it? Would it have mattered to the Delhi-born? I don't know, to be honest. All I knew that he was shooting arrows into the dark. Perhaps every shot that he played on the night was a release shot, to relieve himself of the pressure that wasn't just limited to the pitch.
Chris Morris, the new batsman, also had a Pant-like reputation. The game was drifting along indifferently, and Pant seemed to be letting himself drift with the flow with the same amount of indifference. My gut said that it was Delhi's game, but I knew that my gut-feeling had landed me in more trouble than any other thing ever had.
Abdulla comes back, perhaps still petrified after the first-ball six he was greeted with. He continues to dart them outside off. This time, however, Pant had had enough. The definition of enough is subject to interpretations. He creams the first one between point and covers for a four and slogs the next one over midwicket for six.
He does two things through this act of daredevilry. First, he makes it Delhi's game from this point, and second, he lays the roots of a fairy tale ending to his expressionless jostle at the crease. It is almost cruel to use the term fairy tale here. There's nothing fair here. The man has just cremated his father and has dragged his way through a thousand kilometers to play in front of a crowd that's baying for his wicket at the moment.
They don't get their wish but get two replacements. First, Abdulla traps Morris in front of his stumps, and then, Yuzvendra Chahal knocks over Carlos Brathwaite before any newbie could remember the latter's name.
All of a sudden, it's all about Pant. The indifference suddenly turns into urgency, for he can no longer shoot arrows in the dark, he can longer play release shots, and he can no longer be numb. Patrick Cummins has just been a part of the most iconic series played on Indian soil for a long time, and he is expected to keep the intensity up and help Pant put an end to the struggle.
45 from the last 5 is gettable. With Pant on 48 off 23, it looks more than gettable. Mills comes back and bowls one on the stumps. Pant shuffles and whips it with absolute belligerence towards the midwicket boundary. Had he missed, he would have been plumb in front. But, it didn't matter. Nothing matters at this moment.
37 from the last 4 is still gettable. Watson errs first-ball and Cummins helps the leg-side delivery on its way to the fine-leg fence. Cummins errs second-ball and has his stumps in tatters. More than Cummins’ stumps, it's Pant's face that's in tatters.
For the first time in the game, he shows his feelings, as expressions roll down his face when he finds Mishra struggling on one from three. Little did he know that his senior statesman's struggles had only begun.
32 from three with three wickets in hand, suddenly, makes it RCB's game. Mills comes back for his final over and concedes five off the first five balls. He remembers how Pant had taken his eyes off his short ball earlier in the game, perhaps, and darts another one. Fortuitously, Pant does the same, makes the same 360-degree shuffle and top-edges it yet again, for six.
Mills couldn't believe his luck. Pant couldn't believe his either.
Pant reaches his fifty in the meantime but observes his bat instead of raising it to the dugout. I'm not quite sure that he knew he'd reached the milestone. Even if he did, I'm not sure he'd have loved to celebrate it. By celebrate, here, I mean pay an obituary of sorts. Perhaps he wanted to do just that but reined it in. Perhaps he wanted to go all the way.
The game had ceased to be just a humdinger. It had become about the wolves vs the sheep. The game reminded us that even sport could be as unforgiving as it could be liberating. It reminded us that the world isn't karmically equated and that parity and fairness are dead man's virtues.
As writers and observers of the game, it is easy to glorify the moment unlike when you're out in the middle, playing every shot for liberation as well as escape.
When Amit Mishra swung with the chivalry of the 19-year-old at the other end, only to miss it three times out of four in the penultimate over, thereby allowing Pant to face just one ball, the writing was on the wall.
19 runs were needed off six balls. Carlos Brathwaite was back in the dugout. MS Dhoni was done with his game earlier in the evening. It was Pant, just Pant and no one else. Mishra bore a morose look at the other end. The writing, perhaps, indeed was on the wall.
Pawan Negi was snapped up for INR 8 crores in the last auction, only to be let go this season by the team he was going to bowl against. The high-risk manoeuvre could either make one look like Midas or Satan. Murali Vijay and had done it against Dhoni last season and had repented. Watson could have repented too and he would have outpaced Vijay in terms of foolhardiness, for unlike Axar Patel, Negi hadn't bowled a single ball in the match.
You see, fairy tales are best suited for a dead man. For when you're free from the practicalities of the mortal world, you enter the ideal one. This wasn't an ideal world. The crowd got what it had been baying for since the seventh over. Pant could have easily cried and could have been left unnoticed the moment Negi disturbed his leg stump, for the noise was so raucous that it could have brought one back from the dead.
Unfortunately, for Pant, nobody was coming back. I looked at my father. He was asleep, but I knew he would rise again in the morning.