Though it was an optional session, Rishabh Pant was the first to hit the nets. To his right was his Delhi Capitals skipper Shreyas Iyer. Both sweated it out for about half an hour, facing spin, seam and throw downs. In between there were brief chats with coach Ravi Shastri and batting coach Vikram Rathour. The team management looks at them as future prospects, to fortify a middle-order that proved weak and ultimately cost India in the World Cup in England. But as they climb the ladder of responsibility, the scrutiny intensifies as well.
Ask Pant. A regular in the squad, he has been under immense pressure since the shot that led to his dismissal in the World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand. A string of poor scores, bad shot selection and keeping errors haven’t helped his cause. It has led to a hot debate over his place in the side.
Comments from the team management haven’t helped either—from Virat Kohli’s “reading the situation and decision-making is the expectation from all the players” to Shastri’s “rap on the knuckles” to Rathour’s “difference between fearless and careless”.
Stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma, on the eve of the T20 series decider against Bangladesh at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium here, wanted Pant to be left alone.
“There is lot of talk happening about Rishabh Pant…every day, every minute. I just feel he needs to be allowed to do what he wants to do on the field. I would request everyone to keep your eyes away from him. He is a young guy trying to make a mark in international cricket. He’s just trying to do whatever the team management wants him to. He is a fearless cricketer and we want him to have that freedom,” Sharma said.
Yuvraj Singh had said in a recent interview that Pant is a rare talent. “You have to understand his character; you have to understand his psychology. If you’re going to suppress him, you’re not going to get the best out of him.”
Sharma said newcomers are encouraged to play freely. “As a young player when you are coming into the squad that is what you look forward to…having that freedom from the management. That is what we are here to assure them….you have all the backing you need, you have all the freedom that you need, just go out and express yourself. That is when these players will give you the best performance.”
MAKING IT COUNT
It remains to be seen how much more patience the team management will show with Pant. Since his magnificent, unbeaten 159 in the Sydney Test in January, he has managed just one fifty-plus score across formats. On top of it, keeping errors saw him lose his Test spot to Wriddhiman Saha in the last series against South Africa.
Iyer too has faced criticism in domestic cricket that he plays shots when the situation calls for more caution. In India’s loss against Bangladesh in the first T20 at New Delhi, he got off to a brisk start but played too many shots to be dismissed.
Flamboyance has marked the 24-year-old Mumbai player’s batting, but Iyer needs to work on his shot selection to avoid the kind of scrutiny Pant faces.
Iyer was disappointed when he didn’t make the World Cup squad. He felt he had done ‘enough’ to merit a place. He has been getting opportunities since then and has done well. He is a front-runner for the No. 4 spot in limited-overs cricket. He has the game to handle tough situations and also play big shots.
Sharma felt both are the future of Indian cricket. “Both have great abilities in whatever they do. They have proved it whenever they have played for their franchise or in domestic cricket, and now they are trying to make a mark in international cricket,” he said.
“All I would tell them is to understand their game, which is very important in whatever format they play. They are very new to the set-up, they are learning every game and with experience, within a year or two, you will see them batting differently. Now all we want them to do is go out there, enjoy their game and be fearless.”
Both are among the favourites to take middle-order spots in the T20 World Cup next October in Australia. However, they can’t slip up as others like Manish Pandey and Sanju Samson are waiting in the wings.