Rishabh Pant’s unbeaten 89 to breach the Gabba, Australia’s fortress, is placed at No.2 in Wisden’s Test innings of 2021.
Rishabh Pant 89* (138 balls)
Australia v India
The Gabba, Brisbane
I remember hearing the adage “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” as a teenager not fully able to comprehend the exact meaning of the words. It sounded nice to the ear, though, and promptly went inside a cliched ‘quotes journal’ that I possessed. It was not until much later, when the lazy, happy days of college were over, that I became fully aware of the real import of the phrase, realising that real life came with its own sets of challenges. Not that living breezily should not be encouraged, but it’s how you adapt to different situations that go on to shape and define your overall character. Maturity, as some call it.
Rishabh Pant displayed enough of that and much more at the Gabba last year, taking on the responsibility of an injured and frail India side as they looked to complete a comeback for the ages. In the depths after being shot out for 36 in the first Test at Adelaide, India slowly lost their heroes to injury one by one as the series progressed after Virat Kohli had departed for the birth of his child. By the fourth Test, their XI looked like a team straight out of a tour game, with T Natarajan, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur manning the fast bowling department. Only the last of those had been capped before the series started.
Determined to grab their chances, the bench strength, however, gave a fine impression of themselves, and standing tall in the lot was India’s wicketkeeper Pant, who showed that he was prepared for the various challenges ahead of him, transitioning from a kid who would leave us frustrated with an underwhelming showing into an individual who could be given the responsibility of getting the house back in order with controlled madness.
There he was, on day five at Brisbane, walking out to bat with India at 167-3 in 57 overs after the side had lost their skipper Ajinkya Rahane for 24 runs. Chasing 328 for an improbable series win, the past eccentricities of Pant instilled a sense of fear and the collective murmur was for him to hold on to his end and bat out the remaining overs for a draw, with Cheteshwar Pujara safely holding the other end up.
But, what was he doing?
The ninth ball that he faced was a lucky escape as a short of a length delivery by Pat Cummins was poked away, only for the batter to get an inside edge that landed between second slip and gully before strolling away for a four. He tried to call Pujara for a risky single soon after, had the worst possible start to his innings when he was hit in the box by Cummins, almost got another outside edge a few overs later as he tried to defend a delivery that nipped away and just about escaped a stumping as Nathan Lyon’s turn deceived both him and Tim Paine.
Patience, the Indian fans screamed, almost in despair.
But Pant was his merry self, unfazed by the sighs of those around him. He fought fire with fire and counterattacked by playing some breathtaking cover drives off Josh Hazlewood and swept Lyon on a track where the off-spinner found assistance. He went after an under-performing Mitchell Starc, made the most of his chances, and his huge six after the missed stumping chance displayed his intentions. He was here to win, something the then-coach Ravi Shastri proclaimed after the game. “You know you can’t change his style of play. In his mind he was always chasing. He kept looking at the scoreboard. You knew he had some other ideas.”
Incidentally, it was following the dismissal of Pujara that Pant let himself loose. When the No.3 was at the crease, the left-hander was batting on 34 off 84, but he took it upon himself to change the complexion of the game following the wicket of Pujara. His next 16 deliveries fetched as many runs, and he upped the pace after reaching his fifty, taking another 38 deliveries for the next 39 runs that he scored, as India breathed and heaved, finally in relief.
It was the last ball of the 97th over. As Hazlewood sent down a cannonball that was crunched away to long-off, Pant, and his teammates, and the spectators, and the viewers all erupted in unison.
The Gabba had been breached for the first time in 32 years. For the first time by an Indian team. Not by veterans, not by a team filled with experienced campaigners, but by a group of innocent souls who never knew defeat, and a bunch who believed they could manoeuvre destiny as they deemed best.
Pant’s innings was not just a coming-of-age knock for the youngster who had left us underwhelmed in international cricket for far too often. It proved once again, if any evidence was needed, that Test cricket’s heart was “beating hard, and beating true.”
You can be down, you can be out, but when you rise, you learn to make it worthwhile. Pant’s innings, conquering the obstacles, then, was so much more.