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The 19 year old who may be Dhoni's successor

By Dhruv Munjal
June 20, 2017 12:52 IST
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Much like Dhoni, Pant is an aggressive ball-belter who keeps wickets.
But he will require enormous work on his keeping if he is to reach anywhere close to Dhoni's absurdly high standards, notes Dhruv Munjal.

Rishabh Pant

IMAGE: Rishabh Pant in action for Delhi Daredevils during the IPL. Photograph: BCCI

For about 30 seconds after being given out, Rishabh Pant still stood out there in the middle.

Shoulders drooped, his face a picture of crippling disappointment.

As the crowd gasped, the opposition skipper, Suresh Raina, in a show of rare admiration, walked up to the 19 year old and cupped his cheeks, before almost coaxing him to walk off.

"He desperately wanted to do it for his father," says his former coaches.

Pant's father, Rajendra, had passed away a month earlier, leaving the youngster terribly shaken.

"He was extremely close to him. In fact, the plan was that he would travel with him for the entire IPL (Indian Premier League) season. Unfortunately, that couldn't happen," says Hemant Dua, CEO of the Delhi Daredevils.

Rishabh Pant

IMAGE: Rishabh during IPL 10. Photograph: BCCI

Against Raina's Gujarat Lions, Pant excruciatingly fell for 97 -- a hundred in a daunting chase in a genuinely world-class competition would have made his old man tremendously proud.

But before his departure and the euphoric applause that followed, Pant had potently exhibited his frightening belligerence: Sixes that went soaring into the Delhi skyline and boundaries that pinged off the bat.

Sachin Tendulkar later described it as one of the best innings he had seen in the 10 years of the IPL.

The Daredevils would eventually crush the Lions by seven wickets.

In sport, the ability to overcome personal tragedy with on-field brilliance always makes for compelling stories.

A decade ago, someone by the name of Virat Kohli strode out to bat for Delhi a day after he had lost his father. He scored a match-saving half-century against Karnataka.

Pant's innings against the Gujarat Lions was perhaps the standout moment of a hugely entertaining IPL season -- one of the better ones we have been witness to in recent times.

And more than the sentimentality of it all, it shone because of the eye-popping ability of a young man unafraid of the grand stage.

"He's not scared of any bowler or team. He will go after you; the confidence is simply amazing," says Tarak Sinha, Pant's childhood coach at New Delhi's Sonnet Cricket Club.

Some of his former teammates say he was given the freedom to play the way he wanted to from a young age.

"Some players are just different. You don't try to change them too much. He's just one of them," says one former Delhi teammate.

Rishabh Pant

IMAGE: Rishabh, left, with Rahul Dravid. Photograph: BCCI

One of 'Pant's secrets is his ability to listen.

During practice, he spends hours absorbing all the feedback his coaches strafe him with.

"He takes information really well. And he is passionate and hungry to do well all the time," says Dua.

Pant fell under the aegis of Sinha when he arrived from Roorkee at the age of 14.

Confronted with the harsh realities that come with staying away from home, the early years spent in Delhi built Pant's character. City life forced him to toughen up.

"The first few years were very difficult. But he adopted a pragmatic approach to every thing that he did," says Sinha.

Pant comes across as an uncomplicated batsman whose style is reminiscent of two fine left-handers: He stands like Saeed Anwar and swings like Raina.

In fact, his method has won him quite a few admirers already. Tendulkar likes to describe him as an imperious mix of Raina and Yuvraj Singh.

Pant himself is a devotee of Adam Gilchrist; the fast hands and the hand-eye coordination explain exactly why.

With such lofty plaudits and comparisons, playing for India seems like the next logical progression for Pant.

"He is young and his time will come. All I tell him is to keep working hard," says Sinha. Dua adds that the past few months have taught him the importance of patience.

"He realises that things take time coming to you. But he is sure that the opportunity will finally arrive," he says.

Calls for Pant to be blooded into the Indian side stem from coherent reason.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is now staring at the fag end of a glorious career, and Pant is inclusive of the qualities that typified Dhoni when he first made an appearance on the international scene.

Pant, much like Dhoni, is an aggressive ball-belter who keeps wickets.

But Pant wouldn't be taking his potential passage into the Indian team for granted.

Dinesh Karthik, with heaps of runs, has sprung up as an unlikely successor to Dhoni's throne in the past few months.

Moreover, Pant will require enormous work on his keeping if he is to reach anywhere close to Dhoni's absurdly high standards.

"He has been keeping wickets for Delhi in domestic cricket, too. Obviously this adds another dimension to his game. It's getting better, but he has to keep working on it," concedes Dua.

Unlike many young players who sparkle only during the IPL, Pant has enjoyed success playing for Delhi, too.

In October, he pulverised Maharahstra with a 326-ball 308, becoming the third youngest Indian player to score a first-class triple century, only behind Wasim Jaffer and Abhinav Mukund.

The following month, he bludgeoned his way to a 48-ball hundred against Jharkhand, the fastest by an Indian in first-class cricket.

This rousing success was instantly met with monetary acknowledgement. '

In December, he signed a three-year-multi-crore deal with equipment manufacturer Sanspareils Greenland.

This past week, he bought a Mercedes SUV, pictures of which were splashed all over the Internet.

Another hackneyed case of a young cricketer going astray thanks to the lure of money? He is way too grounded to let anything go to his head, coaches say.

And it's not just his batting that is being talked about.

In February, Delhi Coach Bhaskar Pillai decided to make Pant captain of the state's one-day side for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, inviting the ire of regular skipper Gautam Gambhir.

While the experiment failed to deliver as Delhi were knocked out after a couple of dismal outings, many believe that Pant possesses the astuteness to become a leader.

However, coaches say his current focus is only on getting better with the bat.

"He's working on getting more consistent," says Sinha.

With exhilarating talents such as Pant, the fear of 'unfulfilled potential' is alarmingly high -- all talk of a 'bright future' can actually get quite onerous.

While featuring regularly for India might not be that far away, for now, Pant can only wait.

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Dhruv Munjal
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