Rishabh Pant as an opener in T20Is averages 14.50 from five games in 2022 and 22.43 from 66 games across positions. What’s wrong with Rishabh Pant in T20Is?
Rishabh Pant – the undisputed hero of the 2020-21 Test series win against Australia down under where he scored a series-winning 89* in the deciding Test at the Gabba in Brisbane which was no less than a fortress for the home side where they were unbeaten for 32 years.
Pant has played a few other brilliant knocks in Test cricket and is definitely the game-changer in the long format for India. He plays high-risk cricket but gets rewarded for his brilliance by taking on some of the best bowlers in the longer version of the game. He is irreplaceable in Test cricket for India at the moment.
But the same Pant, whose game is more suited to the shortest format of the game as he can butcher a bowling attack right from the first ball, is fighting to book the keeper-batter spot as his own in T20Is. He has faced stiff competition from Dinesh Karthik, who was deployed as a specialist finisher till the 2022 World T20 which meant that Pant received sporadic chances in that phase.
But with the World Cup over, and Karthik likely to be phased out, Pant could take for granted that he is up the ladder for a spot in T20Is. But his approach in T20Is, low returns, coupled with the onslaught of poor confidence in this format are doing him more harm than good. It is not helping India that one of their best batters is struggling to find his rhythm in T20Is. Also, competitors such as Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson are breathing down Pant’s neck for a place in T20Is.
So, what is wrong with Pant? Why is he not able to replicate his Test success in T20Is? What is making him a walking duck in T20Is?
Pant is adopting the wait-and-watch approach in T20Is
Rishabh Pant is super aggressive in Test cricket, where irrespective of the match situation he just counter-attacks to put the opposition on the back foot. He bats at a strike rate of over 100 in Test cricket, and finds boundaries with ease as the opposition puts attacking fields to eke out an error from Pant’s bat. But Pant relishes the challenge and even goes on the offensive when the field is spread out and launches his big sixes when men are placed at the boundaries for catches. His approach in Test cricket gives India the necessary momentum and lifts the total from par to competitive to a winning one.
But what happens to Pant in T20Is is totally absurd. He becomes timid and waits for the bad ball, rather than taking on the bowlers just like he does in Test cricket. Someone who has the audacity to reverse sweep James Anderson in Test cricket can conjure up those batting shots in T20Is as well, just like how Suryakumar Yadav has reinvented his T20 game.
Rishabh Pant’s last 5 T20I innings are anything but inspiring. They make for sorry reading - 5-ball 11, 13-ball 6, 4-ball 6, 5-ball 3, 14-ball 27. Three of those innings were when Pant opened the batting. His struggles have been visible, and Pant cuts a sorry figure with other talented keeper-batters waiting for chances to dawn for them on the big stage.
Why cannot Rishabh Pant repeat the same style or approach of Test batting in the shortest format as well? Unlike in Test cricket where Pant is given a regular spot in the middle order, where he comes out to bat when the ball is old and the bowlers are tiring, Pant has been moved up and down the order in the T20Is, all thanks to experimentation and Karthik’s evolution as a finisher.
This constant change in his batting order has resulted in Pant ending up confused with his batting approach as he is supposed to build an innings when he opens and has to go for the kill when he bats lower down the order. It has also dented his confidence in this format, as he knows a failure or two will see him make way for another keeper in the squad.
Sporadic chances did more harm than good
Like in any other format, a player needs to be given a longer run to remain consistent. With the management putting complete faith in Pant, the Test cricketer, and giving him a long stint in this format, he churned up match-winning performances one after another. But in T20Is for a year or so, Pant has got chances only when Karthik has not been played or rested or injured. And Pant is expected to explode in those few chances.
This is too much of an ask even for a seasoned player, and high expectations probably weighed heavy on Pant. And hence, Pant’s approach to T20Is remains timid, harming both his and the team’s chances.
So, what can Pant do now?
Pant needs to take a leaf out of his own previous T20 performances, or his brilliant tons in Test cricket and take inspiration from them to lift his approach in the shortest format. Just like how SKY has brought innovation and creativity to his T20 game, Pant needs to find ways to get back to scoring runs consistently in T20Is, making the keeper-batter’s spot his very own. If Pant finds his groove in T20Is, India could turn out to be a formidable batting line-up in this version of the game.