"This is one of the biggest moments of my life now," an elated Rishabh Pant said after driving India home to a remarkable series win with his innings of 89* on the final day of the fourth Test against Australia, at Brisbane.
The 23 year old also finished as India's highest run-getter in this series, with 274 runs to his name at an average of 68.50. He had tasted similar success with his batting the last time India toured Australia in 2018-19 and won the series as well.
But this victory was far more special for him, not only because of the way the entire Indian team fought back after the horror-show at Adelaide but also for how he redeemed himself from what he had endured in the last couple of years.
After making his Test debut in England in 2018 and touring Australia afterwards, Pant was flying high after the kind of success he enjoyed in both countries, having scored a century in both. Everyone was full of praise for him, for his fearlessness as a player and aggressive style of batting.
However, all of that praise and accolades didn't last long. All it took was one failure and the accolades turned into criticism with a focus on his style of batting.
The incident referred to here goes back to the 2019 World Cup semifinal against New Zealand. Rishabh Pant, a mere 21 years old back then, was sent out to bat at No 4, with India's score reading 5/2, while chasing a target of 240. He stood there at one end and saw his team getting reduced further to 24/4 before Hardik Pandya joined him in the middle. With Hardik, Pant started reconstructing India's innings.
The partnership for the fifth wicket had gone up to 47, with Pant batting on 32 off 55 deliveries. That was when he attempted a big shot off Mitchell Santner's bowling, but ended up being caught on the boundary by Colin de Grandhomme instead. India were five down with just 71 runs on the board and with it began the outrage.
The same player who was being called fearless, innovative and an X-factor for the team some months ago, was now being called reckless, careless, irresponsible and immature.
India had lost that semifinal and Pant's dismissal was considered as one of the main reasons for their loss by many. Many pundits called out Pant's attitude and had asked him to play more responsibly. What followed afterwards was a series of some more failures, including an underwhelming IPL 2020 season, even though he was trying to play how most greats of the game wanted him to.
Now it was time for the tour of Australia once again. He wasn't made a part of the white-ball squad but kept as a wicket-keeper in Tests. Still, it was Wriddhiman Saha who was preferred over him to start in the first Test in Adelaide, owing to his superior keeping skills. What followed there was a horror-show as India succumbed to their lowest total (36) ever in Test cricket. The top and middle-order failed but the lack of fight from the lower-order was clearly visible.
That was when Pant was drafted into the XI from the second Test onwards and everyone knows what followed after that. He made a decent contribution of 29 in the only innings he batted in their eight-wicket win over Australia at the MCG. This match was more about skipper Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, debutant Shubman Gill and Mohammad Siraj's performances. But the draw at the SCG and the win at the Gabba wouldn't have been possible without Pant's batting efforts.
With his knock of 97 in Sydney and 89* in Brisbane, Pant showed that he can be the best version of himself only when he is allowed to bat the way he knows how to. In fact, he can be his best version only when he is allowed to bat the way he wants to.
Many people might want another Cheteshwar Pujara or a Hanuma Vihari in the Test side instead of Pant, mainly because their style of batting adheres to what this format has traditionally been known for. Their inclusion instead of the youngster might bring assurance to the batting unit; they may go on to save many matches from tricky situations as well.
However, can you expect them to hunt down more than 100 runs in the final 20 overs of the fifth day of a Test match?
May be they can eke out a draw at most from such situations. But, would that draw taste as sweet as this victory? Would that feel as momentous as this win? Probably not.
And that's why it's a blessing to have a ‘mad man’ like Rishabh Pant, who will dare to achieve what others won't. He is someone who believes in pushing harder instead of retreating in the face of adversity, and he summed that up pretty well with his tweet after the memorable win.
When the chips are down. You push harder. A series we can never forget. Through the tough times we always believed and backed ourselves and this series win proves with belief you can achieve everything.@BCCI pic.twitter.com/uPPhzmFHAT
— Rishabh Pant (@RishabhPant17) January 19, 2021
If Pant would have batted a little longer in the Sydney Test match, it could have ended in a win for India instead of the draw. He kept the Australian players on their toes as long as he was at the crease in that match as well. Although he couldn't achieve what he strived for there, he didn't miss out on his second attempt at the Gabba.
It can be argued that his aggressive nature of batting brings its share of inconsistency with it. But Pant averages a healthy 43.52 even after playing 16 Tests and that shows how wrong the notion is.
In this entire series, Pant scored his runs at a strike-rate of 69.89 and average of 68.50 – both figures are the highest among batsmen who scored at least 100 runs in the series. That in itself sums up the kind of impact he had on the Indian team's fortunes.
So, it doesn't come as a surprise when he says it is one of the biggest moments of his life. For all he has endured, this win means bigger than anything to him. This victory feels better than anything to him in the world right now!
With this win, he has freed himself from the pain of that World Cup semi-final loss. With this win, he has rediscovered himself once again! This is his identity. This is Rishabh Pant.
Now, all of you, please do us a favour.
Don't ask him to change, EVER!
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