@swaris16 5 minute read
Rishabh Pant’s unbeaten century out of a team total of 198 is placed at No.4 in Wisden’s Test innings of 2022 and Sarah Waris looks at how ‘PantBall’ will change Test cricket.
Rishabh Pant 100* (139 balls)
South Africa v India
Magic. Free-spirited. Entertaining. Exuberant. Fun.
Test cricket knocks are very rarely filled with daredevilry. They are mostly aesthetic, technically on point and stick to the textbook. They are about fighting the odds and conditions, building an innings the traditional way and providing a solid platform. Counter-attacking is encouraged but few will muster up the courage to keep doing it again and again at the risk of looking ugly and failing.
But Rishabh Pant does things differently. During the 60th over of India’s innings at Cape Town, the left-hander charged at Duanne Olivier only to lose control of the bat and see it land near square leg. Off the next delivery, Pant reached for a very wide delivery outside off, drilled it to deep cover and jogged towards point for a ‘pretend two runs’ as laughter ensued all around. A few overs later, Pant looked to play a reverse lap over slips just like he had famously done against James Anderson, but failed to connect, falling on his back instead.
Batting on 89 at that point, with India struggling at 184-8 while looking to save the series, Pant’s boyish antics would not have found many takers. But that brief period of play was quintessentially Pant: a fun-loving and unabashed wicketkeeper who has established himself in the toughest format playing the way only he can. He isn’t concerned by landmarks and tough situations are only an opportunity to further his legacy.
In a low-scoring game and with history on the line for India, Pant walked out at 58-4 in the third innings, with the side losing two wickets in the space of a run. They had managed to eke out a 23-run lead in the first innings and there was plenty to play for. Pant saw out a maiden upfront, resisting the urge to go after the wide deliveries and the away-anglers. For how long though, was the question because with Pant you knew something was brewing.
True to his reputation, he got off the mark with a magnificent pull shot for four, guiding bouncer over square leg. That same over, he made room and flayed another short delivery over point. He was up and running, with Virat Kohli’s presence at the other end allowing him the freedom to stick to what he knows best. The Test skipper, in the midst of an difficult run of form that was made worse by his ODI captaincy axing a month earlier, played a solid innings, hitting a false shot once every 12 balls according to ESPNCricinfo in a match where the other batters played one every six deliveries. But his 143-ball vigil did not help with the scoring rate, with Kohli only making 29 runs with a strike rate of 20.28.
Kohli’s blockathon also indicates the quality of the bowling on display. Olivier kept bowling probing lines, getting the ball to jag back in or seam away. Lungi Ngidi managed to beat Kohli’s edge a number of times, hitting the deck hard and mixing up his lengths well. Marco Jansen was fired up, getting involved in an enthralling contest with Kohli, his height allowing him to get the extra bounce. Rabada was as menacing as ever. The empty stadium echoed India’s misery, the hollowness whispered India’s doom.
It was in that setting that Pant excelled. The audacious hits, the trademark one-handed sixes and sixes hit after he literally got under the delivery, crouching and swiping across the line. Short balls were hooked away, and even though he was dropped twice in the span of four overs, little changed. After he failed in his attempt to reverse scoop Jansen, Hashim Amla on commentary said, “I would have loved to have seen that come off.”
And that is what Pant is all about. For a moment, he makes you forget your allegiance as you just sit back and watch a kid in love with the game play in a manner few others do. Unafraid to fail, he symbolises ‘New India’, of which Kohli had proudly declared himself a member in 2020. “Forever ready to take on challenges” was its mantra, and on that day, Kohli would have proudly watched as his young teammate pushed through into the club.
India were soon reduced to 189-9, losing five wickets for 37 runs. Jasprit Bumrah, in at No.11, had the responsibility of holding up his end against a confident bowling attack as Pant neared a ton. Not that Pant cared, for two deliveries later, batting on 94, the left-hander sent a fuller delivery towards long-off only to see the ball spill out of Temba Bavuma’s hand. He eventually got to his hundred off 133 deliveries at a strike rate of 71.94 on a track where run-scoring was anything but easy. 51 per cent of the team’s runs were made by Pant, and the next-best batter had made 71 runs fewer. He and Kohli were also the only two to score above 10 in that innings.
India did not go on to achieve history, losing the Test convincingly, but Pant managed to thrust himself into record books, becoming the first wicketkeeper from India with Test tons in England, Australia and South Africa. The loss was heartbreaking for it also signalled the end of Kohli’s stint as a leader but Pant’s hundred and the future potential gave fans something to hold on to. Long after Kohli is gone, there will be someone to ensure you remain glued to Test cricket. The format that Kohli got up and running again will hinge on Pant down the line and that’s an honour in itself. For PantBall was the ‘OG’ before BazBall, and you can’t change my mind about that.