Cricket

Century-maker Rishabh Pant stays true to his natural game at Newlands

Not in Rishabh Pant’s gospel of batting. Binning a high-risk, low-percentage stroke when his team is in strife? Not in Pant’s gospel of batting. Reviled and ridiculed back home he could be, his head on the chopping block it could be, but Pant remains true to his gospel of batting. In the second innings at the Wanderers less than a week ago, he attempted a hideous swipe over extra cover off Kagiso Rabada no less and was made to look foolish, as he only contrived to edge the ball to the wicket-keeper. It let the meme-wagon rolling and tongues wagging. So stinging has been the backlash of that shot—even projected as a metaphor of the maladies that afflict Team India and the IPL-groomed generation. All at once, he cut a comic, tragic and villainous figure in the country. None of these were to deter or distract Pant from banishing the stroke forever or shoveling it to the back-burner.

Rishabh Pant plays an audacious shot during the third day. (AP Photo)

He raced out again to another fast-bowler, the more benign Duanne Olivier and crashed him through covers. A lot of variables were different. When he executed the shot in this innings, he had already soaked 32 balls and gotten a measure of the pitch. Besides, Olivier was bowling from around the stumps and the ball was much fuller. That afternoon at Wanderers, he had just faced two balls, Rabada was angling the ball across him from over the stumps and it was short of length. But for all these differences, to show the audacity to play the very shot that was ripped apart with the frenzy of national calamity, embodies the essence of Pant’s batting.

Little doubt that Pant judiciously chose his moments and deliveries, not so much though the bowler, to pick his boundaries. He left more deliveries, blunted even more and resisted some of his temptations, but the fundamentals remained the same. The hundred at Newlands might be one of his more sedate ones, but it had all the shots that make and unmake him. There were slashes and swipes, heaves and hoicks, and even an attempted reverse-scoop. The recipe behind his century was that he, rather than compromising his natural aggression, as many under-fire batsmen would be prone to, blended it with common sense and intelligence. H

e was aggressive, but not reckless. He would always look to attack. Not just the bad ones, but half-good ones, and once the innings rolled along, even the good ones. In the past, perturbed by criticisms on his hyper-aggressive stroke-making, he had woven a shell of circumspection around him. And, often failed. Had he espoused such an approach, like his captain Virat Kohli at the other end, he would have self-destructed. Instead, he bounded into the crease with a mindset to attack any ball that buffered in his bandwidth. Bowl short, he would pull. As he did to get off the mark off a bouncer. Short and wide. He would ferociously cut. Full into his body, he would drive and flick. He leant into a sumptuous drive off Lungi Ngidi early on. There was no fuss; there were no frills. No shot in anger or adrenaline. One boundary necessarily didn’t bring the next. Perhaps, this was the concept of controlled batting, according to Pant’s gospel.

Rishabh PantRishabh PantRishabh Pant in action during the third day of the third and final Test. (AP Photo)

The sashay-down-the track to Olivier was the first real risk he sought. Again, he didn’t embrace another risky shot for the 20 balls. That was when Dean Elgar introduced Keshav Maharaj, who he disdained over long-on. It was again Maharaj he targeted for his next two big shots, both sixes, back to back, again after 20 balls. But in the interlude between sixes, he kept gliding and nurdling, stealing six singles and a double, thus ticking the scoreboard along. Singles, twos and a three constituted 52 off his 100 runs. It’s his template, though often forgotten in the pile of his boundaries.

It was his blueprint until Kohli departed, whereupon he invariably rang in more aggression. Olivier, lacking the pace and lift of the past, was buried for a six and four off successive balls. Both meaty pull shots. In the vicinity of his hundred and with partners running out, he backed away and cuffed Rabada through covers. In effect, it was a characteristic Pant knock in its very essence. Even when he was within the sight of his hundred, it never crossed his mind to slam on the brakes. He went for the big strokes, even though he couldn’t connect with many of them. The single that brought up his hundred was a full-blooded whip rather than a feline tickle. True to the gospel of batting, according to Rishabh Pant.

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