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India v England

Rishabh Pant’s wonder shot: A stroke of genius years in the making

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

Rishabh Pant’s reverse-lap off James Anderson might have seemed like an improvised one-off moment, but there was plenty of thinking behind it, writes Ben Gardner.

In a Test series packed full of take-your-breath-away moments, Rishabh Pant topped the lot with an audacious stroke of genius during his century in Ahmedabad, reverse lapping James Anderson to move into the nineties.

At first glance, it appeared an impudent, high-risk stroke. Pant has already been dismissed four times between 90 and 99 in Test cricket, and before Friday, had only gone on to make two centuries. Anderson, one of the greatest seam bowlers of all time, and was armed with the new ball. India were ahead in the game, though not yet out of sight.

And yet, there was, as there always is, a method to Pant’s madness. He understood that the new ball represented England’s last hope of clawing their way back into the contest. Anderson would have hoped to build pressure, bowl to a plan, and try and prise an opening. The harder ball would also travel quickly if he got enough contact. The rewards, he judged, outweighed the risks. The milestone barely came into consideration.

The genius of Pant is manifold. He has the daring to conceive of the strokes he attempts, the skill to pull them off, and the modern game sense to know when to launch. This was an innings of two halves, with Pant bedding in after coming in with his side in strife before striking out to take the match beyond reach. His recent epics look like sustained assaults in highlights reel form, but dig deeper and you see the thinking behind the thwacking. At the MCG he hit Nathan Lyon out of the attack on the last day, rendering him toothless long after he was dismissed, and he nearly did the same to Jack Leach in his first innings of this series. A less mentally tough bowler might have been diminished for the series.

What also shouldn’t go unnoticed is the work Pant puts in behind the scenes to hone his craft. Quickly brought up after the shot were an IPL stroke eerily similar to this one, and an attempt played in the nets on India’s 2018/19 tour of Australia. How did Pant know he could take on Anderson? Because he’d done it before, in practice and in the middle. To him, Anderson was just another bowler, reputation be damned.

“When you’re playing the reverse sweep, you have to premeditate that,” he said after play. “When everything is going your way, you can try your luck.”

Impudent but not improvised, out of the box but not off the cuff, this was a moment of magic years in the making. Don’t be surprised if we see it again, and again, and again as Pant embarks on his journey to becoming the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman in the game’s history.

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