NEW DELHI: It was during a T20I against Bangladesh in Rajkot in 2019 that Rishabh Pant effected a stumping which was deemed ‘not out’ because he grabbed the ball in front of the stumps. The pressure on Pant, the wicketkeeper, multiplied manifold from there on.
Every ball that reached him behind the stumps was scrutinized and with experts only highlighting the glitches in his technique, the turnaround in the two Tests on raging turners in Chennai may come across as a Genie-out-of-the-lamp story to many.
It is convenient to term Pant’s resurgence as a turnaround. Essentially, it has been about taking a step back – both technically and literally. It happened during a brief chat with childhood coaches Tarak Sinha and Devendra Sharma at his residence after he returned from Australia.
The talk was more about taking him back to the days when he started wicketkeeping at the age of 14 and fell in love with the art. “We didn’t have much time to talk but we talked to him about how he kept in his early days. Wicketkeeping is all about enjoying and staying relaxed behind the stumps,” Devendra, a former Delhi wicketkeeper, told TOI. “We felt he was getting anxious and when you are under pressure, your muscles get stiff and you start snatching at balls. He has also got his glove position right now. It was more flat and now it’s vertical,” Devendra added while referring to that missed stumping in Rajkot
The idea to make Pant a wicketkeeper struck Devendra and Sinha when he was 14. It was also assumed that by the time he gets ready for international cricket, Indian cricket would have moved past the Dhoni era which had driven away a lot of players from wicketkeeping and there would be a need for a young replacement. “We told him that he needed to keep wickets to get into bigger teams and rise through the ranks faster. He had very good hands. It’s difficult to get into senior teams purely as a batsman when you are a teenager,” recalled Devendra.
“There was a time when we didn’t have a full Sonnet Club team for a match. Rishabh was 15. I played him as a wicketkeeper and an opener. He won the match single-handedly. Then on, he fell in love with wicketkeeping as it kept him involved in a match all the time and helped his batting too. We even asked former UP wicketkeeper Eklavya Dwivedi to let Rishabh keep in club matches instead of him.
“So we talked about those days with him in the two hours we had with Rishabh in Delhi before the England series. It’s evident he is having a great time behind the stumps and that’s helped rediscover his soft hands,” a pleased Devendra said.
The fine adjustments
One of the things Pant has done after that tough Test in Sydney last month is to stand a tad further from the stumps while keeping to the spinners. That has allowed him time to collect the sharp bouncing balls while he eschewed the aspiration to ape the MS Dhoni-like speed to whip off the bails.
Former India wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta, who has been following Pant from the commentary box from the last IPL, points at the now-evident joy in Pant’s mannerisms besides the technical changes. “He never really had poor technique. He had basics in place. But now you can tell he is enjoying his cricket. That reflects in his wicketkeeping,” Dasgupta told TOI. “The good thing is that he is more upright in his stance and is collecting the balls besides him. Earlier, he was staying too low for too long and he was getting hit on his shoulders and close to his wrists,” he added.
” Turners pe keeping karne ka alag mazaa hain. (Keeping on turners gives you different kind of high.)” This is what Pant tells people close to him these days. Devendra and Sinha both understand he is not immune to making mistakes but they are just glad their prodigy has found his teenaged mojo back!