“The high and lows of Pant; he will change a game on its head but in doing so will miss out on the odd personal milestone. Need players like that in your line-up. That’s a good day’s entertainment.”
So tweeted Brad Hogg – and he’s not wrong! In fact, he’s so right that you can extend the things on which Rishabh Pant will miss out from the macro all the way down to the micro scale, such is the tyranny of choice.
Rather like his predecessor as India’s wicketkeeper-batsman, MS Dhoni, Pant has developed what might be termed a brand very early in his career. There are boyish smiles for the cameras, chirpy quips for batsmen and big, fearless hits for the fans. The cliché is that he can’t do it all the time, and, until recently, that was the result of the caprice of the game – even Don Bradman couldn’t get the four runs he needed!
Now it’s the calendar that limits ambition. Who can play franchise cricket, Tests, ODIs and T20Is? Who can play on every tour? Who can do all those photoshoots for the sponsors? Even as bouncy a character as obviously in love with life as Pant cannot say yes to every request. The crowd-pleaser will need to be a crowd-disappointer, else mind and body will be broken – he’ll have to be that little bit greedy in saving himself for the priorities he sets.
If that’s the dilemma on the macro scale of his career, every ball brings forth the tyranny of choice at the micro scale. With quick feet, fast hands and an attitude just the right side of arrogant, Pant has at least two shots for every ball. Skip down the wicket and lift it over the bowler’s head? Stay deep in the crease and punch it square? Block it with a little break of the wrists to rotate the strike? Lesser mortals won’t be expending that amount of mental energy – they’re just keeping the bloody thing from castling the stumps!
Back with Brad Hogg’s quote, Pant’s last three Tests have brought scores of 97, 89 not out and 91, just 23 runs short of a trifecta of sensational centuries. Those couple of dozen runs would not have materially affected the outcomes of those matches, but personal milestones matter more to Indian fans than most, so tossing them away is a high price to pay for one’s commitment to one’s method. And, on another day (especially if he continues to bat at Number 6, a rather different brief to that of Number 7) those runs may matter.
Perhaps he should speak to the greatest aggressive, left-handed wicketkeeper of them all – Adam Gilchrist. The Australian who changed the face of the job (contemporaries like Kumar Sangakkara, Andy Flower and Alec Stewart spent some of their time without the gloves) was as unselfish as they come, always batting in the team’s best interests – but you don’t make 17 centuries by leaving runs on the field.
Gilchrist’s genius lay in his shot selection and the related ability to stay in the moment. His 100 sixes (second in Tests only to Brendon McCullum’s 107 – another ‘keeper who surrendered the gloves) is a testament to his immense power, his high grip on the bat and his full swing of the arms sending the ball over the boundary at some of the world’s biggest grounds.
But he was seldom reckless and never frenetic. Each big hit from Gilchrist appeared to be a standalone work of cricketing art, the bat high above the still head, only now rising as the eyes lift to follow the ball’s arcing parabola, but that maximum was also what the scoreboard needed. Gilly was never carried away by his gifts, possibly the product of waiting until a fortnight shy of his 28th birthday for a taste of Test cricket – he never lost perspective.
Pant, at 23 still in full possession of the insouciance of youth, must find the game very easy at times, but it won’t always be so. In the 90s, the next 50 runs are easier to score than the first 50 runs, so it’s time to cash in and do what Gilchrist did so often – rescue an innings heading for 250 and send it to 350 or take a handy 400 and transform it into a match-defining 500.
India’s new pin-up boy has to learn to be greedy for milestones not because they build the brand, but because they build the team.