BANGLADESH TOUR OF INDIA, 2019
Rishabh Pant has an unwitting way of making match build-ups about himself. He’s both good and talented on some days; either good or talented on others. And on some days, he’s neither. He is “not an impatient player” according to Ricky Ponting one day, and is asked to distinguish fearless from careless on another. He wins the game for Delhi Capitals one day, and is the bad guy in IPL’s worst ever collapse on another. He’s left out of India’s World Cup squad one day, and is part of it on another.
Pant is both this and that, sometimes during the course of one innings, and continues to divide opinions as cricket struggles to reconcile the good in him with the talent he promises. But the constant spotlight is starting to have an adverse effect on the 22-year-old according to India’s captain.
Rohit Sharma wants you to “keep your eyes away” from the wicket-keeper batsman, allow him some breathing space, and maybe, for a change, not focus on that fluffed stumping chance in Rajkot or that goofy DRS review in Delhi.
“There’s a lot of talk about Rishabh Pant every day, every minute. I just feel that he needs to be allowed to do what he wants to do on the field. And I would request everyone to just keep your eyes away from Rishabh Pant for a while,” Rohit said ahead of the third and final T20I in Nagpur. “He’s a young guy, who is probably 21-22 now, who is trying to make his mark in international cricket. Every move he makes on the field, people start talking about it and I think it’s not fair.
“I think we should just allow him to play his cricket, which actually he also wants, and focus on him a lot more when he’s doing good things also, not just (when he’s doing) bad things. He’s kept well, he’s learning every game like I’ve been mentioning throughout and yes, he’s just trying to do whatever the team management wants him to do,” said Rohit in his assessment of the young wicketkeeper. “He’s a very fearless cricketer and we want him to have that freedom. And if you guys just keep your eyes a little bit away from him, it’ll allow him to perform even better.”
Giving the room to make errors is a bonafide Rohit Sharma way. He was the same kind of captain to Khaleel Ahmed in Rajkot, giving the young left-arm seamer another opportunity to bowl the last over after he’d made a soup of it in Delhi.
Shreyas Iyer is another young player in whom Rohit believes. Not long ago, in the third T20I against South Africa in Bengaluru, both Iyer and Pant had walked out to bat at No. 4. It was a major embarrassment for the coaching staff – the internal confusion around batting spots now resonating with the popular opinion – but that seems to have settled down just as the new management has.
Iyer has batted ahead of Pant at No. 4 in this series, and Rohit believes that both – “the future of Indian cricket” – need to use these opportunities to understand their game, to “enjoy and be fearless”.
“All we want them to do is just go out there and enjoy and be fearless, that is what the message would be from my side because as a young player when you’re coming into the squad, that is what you look forward to – having that freedom from the management,” Rohit said of Iyer and Pant. “And that is what we are here to do – to assure them that you have all the backing that you need, you have all the freedom that you need, so just go out there and express yourself and that is when these players give you the best performance.
“I think they’re working hard towards their game, so I don’t see any reason why they can’t get the results on the ground. They have everything that is required to be successful at the international level, they work really hard on their game. And at the same time they’re also learning. They are very new to the setup, they’re learning every game and you know with experience, in a year or two, you will see them batting differently.
“All I would tell them is to just understand their game, you know, which is very very important in whatever format you play. Feeling confident about yourself is very important.”
But Rohit’s way of allowing the young players the necessary buffer to make mistakes and learn and grow confident is proving difficult with all the unwanted attention, especially on Pant. It will be worth noting how he fares in Nagpur on Sunday, when you keep your eyes away from him. But can you, really?