On the evidence of the first few matches as Delhi Capitals captain, Rishabh Pant can be safely called a totalitarian. Just like MS Dhoni when he was in charge of the Indian team, not so much post-retirement though. The only difference, not to speak of a trophy-laden career at all levels for ‘Thala’, between Dhoni and Pant as of now is that the latter is extremely vocal behind the wicket and is given to showing his displeasure when things go awry even on a miniscule level.
Since last IPL, Pant has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime after wonderful series against Australia and England as runs flew from his bat in no small measure and his glovework improved immensely too. Fans will remember how casual and innocuous he looked prior to the Australia tour when things were not going his way, neither with the bat nor with the gloves. They will also remember that sheepish smile, that hangdog appearance when a particular shot didn’t come out as per his expectations and led to his dismissal.
However, this change in Pant doesn’t merit any criticism. It’s human nature to get brash when things go your way and timid when they are not. In a matter of 7-8 months, he has changed from a person who couldn’t say boo to a goose to someone who will not pull his punches, come hell or high water.
If the bowlers are not bowling as per their field and instructions, Pant gets upset fast, fumes uncontrollably and lets the bowler concerned know his disapproval by words or gestures. He is not prejudiced in any way though, whether these are accomplished bowlers like Chris Woakes, Kagiso Rabada, Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra or novices like Avesh Khan, Lalit Yadav and Lukman Meriwala, they all get a kick up their backside from their captain for not being spot on. The other day against Mumbai Indians, Avesh Khan wanted to celebrate his caught-behind wicket of Rahul Chahar in the last over but Pant made it clear by his gesture that he didn’t want to humour him and celebrate his wicket and that he had better go back to his run-up and finish off the job that he had been entrusted with.
He was visibly annoyed when Shikhar Dhawan couldn’t throw fast enough to help effect a possible run-out in the same match. Prithvi Shaw was meted out the same treatment in a fairly similar incident. In a separate note… I hate to break it to Shaw’s fans but he is likely to be in the firing line all through the season since he hasn’t improved much in terms of fitness.
While some may be predisposed to perceive Pant’s mannerism as arrogance and a sure-shot recipe for disaster, it’s actually totally the other way around. It suggests nothing else but that he is involved heart and soul. As a captain that’s what he is supposed to do. That fact he has made some blunders as a captain -- like not being able to see to it that his main bowlers bowl their full quota of overs -- is a clear indication there is no script from the seasoned Ricky Ponting that he is following. There is no greater learning than self-learning. Here is a man who is not looking to step into the breach in the absence of the injured Shreyas Iyer, no sir, he wants the job for good. Not just the captaincy role at any IPL team, he wants to present a strong case for the national captaincy whenever the time comes to look beyond Virat Kohli.
People who have been following Pant’s career especially in the last one year would know this man is not to be taken lightly. From receiving a treatment that is normally reserved for buffoons not long ago, he has moved on big time, turning ridicule into respect. If truth be told, Iyer should feel extremely insecure right now. However, the good news is the bigger picture, that Indian cricket is going to benefit from this competition triggered by Pant’s ambitions.
Pant has already proved that he is MSD 2.0 in terms of impact as a batsman but it remains to be seen whether the same could be said about him in the captaincy stakes too. Whether or not he comes close to the great man on that front, there are high expectations and he looks determined to live up to them, maybe even exceed them.
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