Mumbai: The debate regarding Rishabh Pant’s batting position and utilisation of potential is endless.
Adding fuel to fire was new batting coach Vikram Rathour’s comment about the difference between “fearless” and “careless” batting. All this has confused the talented Pant.
Years ago, Sunil Gavaskar once mentioned that during Test matches he never used to read the papers. But with the proliferation of social media and digital activity, news is everywhere now.
It’s up to the player on how to tackle it. Some players, on constant criticism, become stubborn. They then don’t even take note of constructive criticism.
In Pant’s case, his talent is evident in the away centuries against England and Australia. His is a genuine strokeplayer. If they get going, strokemakers are a treat for sore eyes but when they start to fail they look like novice kids.
Scoring quickly is a gift not all batsmen have. Ravi Shastri, for instance, wasn’t the most gifted of batsmen but still managed to score runs.
Hence it is important to guide strokeplayers who can win you matches singlehandedly. Virender Sehwag was initially criticised for having suspect technique. But that didn’t stop from scoring nearly three triple centuries in Tests. Don’t think Gavaskar ever advised his opening partner Krisnamachari Srikanth not to go for shots.
In case of natural strikers, the output is of greater importance than the manner of getting it. In one Ashes series in Australia, Don Bradman, even after scoring a double hundred was sledged by Maurice Tate.
In the next Ashes series in England, Bradman was the highest run getter and after scoring a triple century asked Tate sarcastically whether his batting technique was good enough to score in England.
At the end of the day, it is about one’s ability to score runs, which is not always forthcoming, irrespective of a batsman’s talent.
In the 1980-81 India tour of Australia, Sandeep Patil, despite a hit on the head in the first Test at Sydney, cracked a spectacular 174 in the second Test at Adelaide. But in 1984, Patil and Kapil Dev’s ill-conceived shots led to India’s loss against England in Delhi.
Kapil and Patil were dropped from the next Test in Kolkata for disciplinary measures. While Kapil returned to the team after sitting out in Kolkata, Patil never played Test cricket again.
Players like Patil and Srikanth weren’t pressurised into changing their natural batting style, which is what is being advised to Pant by every Tom, Dick and Harry.
No point telling a strokemaker to curb his natural instincts, which is to play shots. Rather emphasis should be on maximising his potential rather than limiting him.
No point telling Pant about batting carefully. Nowadays, the mindset of players is also different. Pant’s body language while batting in his last two T20 innings against South Africa was a giveaway.
He was confused, which reflected in his batting, nudging and blocking the ball instead of attempting to hit boundaries. Sensing his predicament South Africa skipper Quinton de Kock introduced Bjorn Foruin and Pant was lulled into playing a false shot.
Criticising Pant for his failures will do him no good. It would be better if he is left alone. Ideally, he should be sent back to the grind of domestic cricket, where he could clear his head while playing for Delhi in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
In the 1979 Test series against Pakistan, Kapil threw away his wicket in the first two Tests. Before the third match in Mumbai, skipper Gavaskar wrote an article castigating Kapil.
The article criticised Kapil’s batting approach, questioning his credentials as an all-rounder. The article was published a day ahead of the beginning of the Mumbai Test.
On reading it, Kapil was furious and promised to show Gavaskar his potential as an all-rounder. India won the toss and on a rank bad turner, lost half their side cheaply, succumbing to the guile of Iqbal Qasim.
Kapil scored a masterly 69 off 79 balls, including 11 fours. He also took two wickets in the match (1 in each innings), helping Indian win by 131 runs.
After the match, Kapil said now Gavaskar has to accept him as a true all-rounder. Kapil’s mindset was different, he preferred his on-field actions do the talking for him. Pant, on the other hand, took it too hard, which affected his performance.
Motivating different personalities with varying mindset needs to be done smartly. Gavaskar’s intention was to provoke Kapil. And Gavaskar was the happiest when Kapil delivered.
Rathour meant well. But Pant got affected when comments poured in on Rathour’s statement.
In the 1958-59 Test against the West Indies, Chandu Borde failed miserably in the first four Tests of the series. After his failure in the fourth Test at Madras, he went to book train ticket to Pune.
The chairman of selectors Lala Amarnath bumped into him at the hotel lobby and advised him to play hi shots, insisting upon him travel to Delhi to play in the fifth Test. Borde scored 109 and 96 in Delhi.
Certain talents demand to be handled differently. Strokeplayers need motivation rather than a lecture on technique. Rathour is a sensible fellow but instead of castigating him publicly and demoralising him, he should have spoken to him behind closed doors.
If Pant doesn’t overcome his dilemma in the Test series against South Africa and Bangladesh, the Indian selectors will have a tough task at hand. This is an issue that should be handled delicately and immediately.
Otherwise the loss would be none other than Indian cricket’s.