'He just has to keep performing, and mustn't let this go to his head.'
At a sit-down with Rishabh Pant at his south Delhi home two years ago, the turn of phrase he often he used was: "Express yourself". It came across as one of those vague, annoying catchlines batsmen routinely employ -- rich in jargon and hollow in meaning.
But watching Pant now makes you realise he genuinely swears by it: No matter what the game situation, he finds ways to "express himself", sometimes through stark belligerence, other times by way of sheer persistence.
Against Australia at the Gabba, Pant did a bit of both, initially blunting the opposition bowling attack, before launching a late assault for the ages.
This fixation with expression also lends itself to great spontaneity, a Pant hallmark that has so far helped him beyond the cricket pitch as well.
His appearances in advertisements for JSW Steel during last year's Indian Premier League were like a breath of fresh air, embodying the authenticity that the 23 year old has come to represent.
And, after his Brisbane heroics, Pant is likely to feature in many more such adverts, reckon industry insiders.
"Pant's life will now be divided into parts: Before and after January 19. The shot of him striking the winning runs will be played over and over again. This is immense for him," says Samit Sinha, founder and managing director, Alchemist Brand Consulting.
Sinha believes that Pant truly has it in him to become the "next poster boy of Indian cricket".
Most will agree that this coming of age has been has been in the works for a while.
Pant, for long, promised so much, but was beset by rampant inconsistency. With his match-winning knock on January 19, as well as a fighting 97 in the fourth innings in the previous Test in Sydney, Pant has shown that he is no longer the wonderkind that routinely deceives, but one that delivers.
In the latest ICC Test rankings, Pant became the highest-ranked wicketkeeper-batsman in the world.
"He definitely has the X factor that we often talk about, which is why brands will explore ways to associate with him," says Navneet Ganapathi, managing partner at the Chennai-based firm Sportainment.
He, too, expects Pant's brand value to soar, adding that some interesting offers from bat and kit manufacturers might be on their way.
Compared with other Indian cricketers, Pant is still small in terms of brand endorsements. He signed a three-year deal with JSW Steel -- Pant's IPL team, Delhi Capitals, is co-owned by the JSW Group -- only last year.
He has also had contracts with bat-maker SG, Adidas, Boost and audio company Boat. Some reports put his earnings for 2019 at Rs 29.19 crore (Rs 291.9 million). A major chunk of that, however, came from match fees.
That's partly why there is still much potential to tap. JSW Sports, the sports arm of the conglomerate, announced that it would be managing all of Pant's commercial engagements, including brand endorsements, appearances, social media monetisation and business deals.
Mustafa Ghouse, CEO, JSW Sports, says there aren't many 23 year olds like Pant.
"Not everyone can go to Australia and win a Test match on the fifth day. We know there's a lot more he's capable of delivering."
There are several factors that may work in Pant's favour. Sinha, for one, points out that he's a small-town boy -- Roorkee in Uttarakhand -- which has its unique appeal among advertisers.
"Plus he's reasonably good looking. That also plays a part," he adds.
But above all, Ghouse talks about how Pant is bold and aggressive in his approach on the field, but is relaxed and fun-loving off it. "For us, he is quite the package, which will be attractive to a lot of brands."
Ghouse's point was well reflected in Pant's post-match speech in Brisbane -- despite all the hysteria around him, he spoke with a casual calmness, resembling a seasoned player fully aware of his responsibilities.
His level of success may yet be determined by his ability to consistently feature in all three formats. So visibly suited to white ball cricket, it is somewhat paradoxical that Pant has mostly made his name in the grind of the five-day game.
"Getting into the T20 and ODI teams is tough, but if he can do that, his brand will take some stopping," feels Ganapathi.
While Virat Kohli has set the benchmark in brand building and is in a rarefied class of his own, there is a feeling among those within the industry that Pant can top the tier of players below the Indian captain.
"He just has to keep performing, and mustn't let this go to his head," warns Sinha.
In a match context, the other thing that Pant always stresses on is "playing the situation". It's safe to assume that if he plays this one right, a glorious -- and lucrative -- future awaits.