Patrick Noone looks at India’s unorthodox talent
There are not many batsmen in world cricket whose signature shot is the aerial flick over fine leg. There are not many left-handers who more or less totally eschew the off drive, preferring to play square on the off-side or to shuffle across and work to leg in order to manoeuvre the field.
Rishabh Pant is no ordinary batsman though and his idiosyncratic technique, allied to a fearlessly audacious mindset make him one of the most exciting young talents in the modern game.
Originally left out of India’s World Cup squad, Pant was called up as a replacement after an injury to Shikhar Dhawan, and eventually made his tournament bow against England at Edgbaston. In his innings against the hosts, and the subsequent knock against Bangladesh two days later on the same ground, Pant showed glimpses of the undoubted talent he possesses.
His scoring areas from those two innings make for peculiar reading. Every ball he faced against England was from a right-arm seamer bowling from over the wicket, while 20 of the 41 he faced against Bangladesh fell into that category, meaning 49 of the 70 balls he’s faced have been from that angle. As a left-hander, with the ball angling across him, the area through mid-off would be an obvious scoring area against balls on a good length or fuller. But as yet, Pant has not scored a single run through that area.
As the beehive shows, Pant has been willing to play even the very widest balls he’s faced from right-arm quicks through the leg-side, hitting the ball where the fielders aren’t and finding ever more inventive ways to score. That technique makes it close to impossible to set a field to him as he’s capable of hitting almost any ball to any part of the ground. The reason he’s yet to score a run through mid-off is likely because there’s always a fielder there, but which captain would be brave enough to take that fielder out? Surely then, Pant would start scoring through that region for fun.
Pant’s unorthodoxy stems from a constant willingness to score. He is, in cricketing parlance, a ‘busy’ player, always looking for ways to either rotate the strike or hit a boundary. Of the players in India’s squad to have faced 50 balls or more in this tournament, only Hardik Pandya has attacked more often than Pant. Hardik’s role as the big-hitting finisher is clear, and it’s to be expected that his attacking shot percentage would be high, destroying bowlers during the death overs. But Pant has done the bulk of his work through the middle overs, never allowing India’s momentum to drop.
Any cricket fan who has followed the IPL closely will have known about Pant’s precocious talents for a while. He has scored at a strike rate in excess of 160 in each of the last three seasons for the Delhi franchise, with the highlight being his blistering 128 from just 63 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2018.
However, despite those displays, and indeed his near-seamless introduction to the Test arena, Pant is still dogged by criticisms about a lack of maturity and a tendency to throw his wicket away when set. It’s easy to forget that we are talking about a 21-year-old who will find that maturity in time but, until then, should be allowed to play his own way – the way that has brought him so much success, even at this early stage of his career.
From the outside looking in, it appears that India do not always fully appreciate the player they have on their hands. All of the great modern batsmen they have produced, from Gavaskar to Tendulkar to Kohli have been orthodox in style, simply doing ordinary things to an extraordinarily high level. They have arguably never had a maverick talent in Pant’s mould, even Virender Sehwag was ultra-aggressive, rather than truly unorthodox. He still has a long way to go to match the achievements of any of those names, of course, but with India’s top order one of the most secure in world cricket, there is no reason to not let him thrive in the middle order.
Pant has had to wait to get his chance on the world stage, but the stars have aligned for him to play a key role in the business end of the tournament. India will hope they have three more matches for him to star in, starting with Saturday’s final group game against Sri Lanka at Headingley. Given the flashes of potential he’s already shown in his two innings so far, and the ease with which he has taken to the big stage, you’d be brave to bet against him having a big impact on the remainder of India’s campaign.
India have a genius in their ranks; a batsman with limitless potential who should become a mainstay of their team across all three formats. This tournament is merely one of the early chapters in Pant’s story; there are surely plenty more to come.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.