Rishabh Pant is audacious. We knew it, the world knew it. Then on a pivotal afternoon in Ahmedabad, with India still vulnerably placed in a Test match, he reverse lapped James Anderson over slips for four.
You don’t do that in such a situation, facing the second new-ball, against one of the greatest bowlers of the modern era. That’s too risky, we say, but it’s almost as if Pant says, let me first explore how risky it really is?
Anderson has never been treated like that by anyone. Ever. If you noticed, the veteran England pacer even nodded in acknowledgement as he went back to his mark.
Asked later, whether it is a shot he wouldn’t mind repeating, Rishabh Pant gave the most Rishabh Pant answer.
“If I get the chance to reverse-flick a fast bowler again, I definitely would,” he said.
Rishabh Pant, the outlier for India
Outrageous. Unfazed. Brave.
These are words that many came to define the second half of that Rishabh Pant knock with. It was a half where he raced past the 100-run mark, taking only 33 deliveries from the time he reached his fifty and leading the body blow which England could never recover from.
Pant sensed the tiredness of an English attack struggling to fill holes of their team with just three dependable weapons under scorching Gujarati weather and put them under enormous pressure with his onslaught. In the process, he fetched more scoring shots off Anderson and Stokes than they had provided earlier in the day to his more experienced teammates.
For only so long the champion fast-bowling duo could’ve kept that English attack in the game and Pant knew it. He hit the hammer hard when the iron was at its hottest and thus the softest. Test match cricket is as much about the doggedness and the resilience you show in the face of adversity as it is about identifying your moments and attacking the opponent where it hurts the hardest. Pant did that exemplarily in that second half.
Yet, it is the first half of that outstanding knock that eventually provided him with that opportunity. You don’t associate the word ‘grind’ with Pant but that first half was mostly about it. Pant fought his way for his first fifty runs, reaching the small milestone in 82 balls. You could say it was the calm before the perfect storm. But that calmness at the start of his innings is exactly what India needed. They were still 125 runs behind when he walked up to the crease.
It is that half where Pant showed his range as a batsman. It’s not that you felt overly surprised he could bat like that, being a talent blessed with a decently built defensive technique to go with his adventurous strokeplay. But at times, you need to reinforce these things in the public memories with one such batting effort.
When he went on the aggressive from the start in SCG and Gabba, his cynics felt he is only taking such a route because that’s what he is most comfortable doing. But here he showed he can bat the more traditional way, combine it with his remarkable unorthodoxy and still make an impact.
A magnificent 101 off 118 balls. This was an innings that showed the different layers of Rishabh Pant.