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Is Rishabh Pant a problem or a solution?

Mahavir Rawat

I think cricket players from metro cities, especially those from Mumbai and Delhi, have a big advantage. No, I am not talking about the cricket grounds or cricketing academies or the entire cricket set-up as such — I am talking about the media and the publicity industry that thrives in these metro cities. So, when an Ishan Kishan scores a century in Jharkhand it gets absolutely no mention in any national newspaper, but when a Rishabh Pant scores a ton, he is easily termed as the next Adam Gilchrist of the game. The media has an important role in every sport, but it won’t be wrong to say that like every other aspect, it has failed to enrich this game. Instead of cricket reporters, we have PR agents moving around the fields and that is the reason you see a certain player hogging the limelight of the newspapers every day. The result is that even before the young player is ready for international exposure, he is already tagged with the greats of the game. Rishabh Pant is a classic example of this cycle.

No doubt that Rishabh has talent. But then who doesn’t at this level of the game. He has played some unbelievable innings in IPL and become the darling of the young crowd. The great Kumar Sangakkara had once said that potential is nothing unless transformed into performance by hard work and persistence; according to me, Rishabh Pant was put on the table very under cooked and hence, what he should have learnt in the gruelling seasons of domestic cricket, he is learning in the international arena. The problem is you can have a lean patch in domestic cricket and still be playing for your team, but when you play international cricket the scenario is totally different. Here, the teams study your style of game, work out not only one but many plans against you and moreover, the execution of these plans is impeccable.

To put things into better perspective, let us look at the growth and rise of Hanuma Vihari who came into team India at the same time as Rishabh Pant. No surprise that he didn’t get it so easily as Rishabh Pant did. He had to work his way through and bang the door of team Indian with loads of runs with six grinding seasons of domestic cricket. Do you know that Hanuma Vihari has the best first class average for any batsman starting his career in the 21st century? He averages nearly 60 in First Class cricket. And this is across all nations and all formats. But the rigours of competition and a perceived pressure to hold down his newly acquired spot nearly resulted in a horror Test debut in England last year. Since then, Vihari has played in all of India’s overseas series, opened in a Boxing Day Test, and has steadily gained the trust of his team as a reliable middle-order batsman. After top-scoring in India’s most recent series in the West Indies, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this player is here to stay. Hanuma Vihari has batted wherever the team demanded him on the other hand numberfour is the special position for Rishabh Pant. On one hand, Vihari has made the most of the opportunities given to him, but on the other, Rishabh Pant has been heavily criticised by fans and cricket pundits for his shot selection and inability to finish off games for India in the limited overs format. Even team head coach Ravi Shastri had said that if Rishabh Pant keeps on playing rash shots, he will receive a “rap on the knuckles”.

White-ball formats have been a strong point of Pant, but his stats show that he has fallen well short of expectations. This is where someone like Rahul Dravid could help. There was a reason that Rahul Dravid chose Ishan Kishan over Rishabh Pant as captain of the under-19 cricket team in 2016 U-19 ICC World Cup in Bangladesh.

The blame definitely goes on the selectors for giving in to the media hype and selecting Pant so early in his career. Let’s also understand that there is a wide gap between international cricket and the standard of India’s domestic cricket. It is no science to say that domestic cricket not only evolves you as a player, but also as a human being. You understand a lot about your game and always have different plan for different situations or a bowling attack which clearly is lacking in Rishabh Pant’s case. It seems like he knows to bat only one way and that way has been already worked out by teams in the international arena. And the more he disappoints the captain and the fans, the lower his confidence is going to get about his own self.

If sources are to be believed, Pant is not the first choice of the captain when it comes to Test cricket and it is very likely that Wriddhiman Saha may don the gloves when India plays the Test series against South Africa at home. This would be another blow to the confidence of this young player. Among all this happening around, let’s also remember that Pant is just 21 years old and playing all formats of the game for the country is really going to be challenging.

I personally feel that if Pant doesn’t find ways to make runs at the top level, he should be sent back to the grind of domestic cricket. It would be very unfair to other players in the country if one single player is given heaps of opportunities while the others are not. This is definitely sending a wrong message to other players in the race.

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