‘No specific style, I play as situation demands,’ Rishabh Pant

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At just 21 years of age, Rishabh Pant has fast begun shedding the word ‘next’ from the phrase ‘next big thing’. Already he is India’s primary wicket-keeper in Test cricket and he continues to promise the world in the shorter formats. But the real challenge in making that promise a reality begins now, in MS Dhoni’s absence, after Pant was named India’s sole wicket-keeper in the ODI and T20I squads for the upcoming tour of the West Indies. In an interview with HT, Pant opened up on a wide range of subjects, including ‘replacing’ Dhoni and having to parachute in to the Indian team at the World Cup.
Edited excerpts:
How does someone deal with the challenge of replacing MS Dhoni in the ODI team, both as a batsman and a wicketkeeper?
I know those are big shoes to fill, but if I start thinking about it there will be a problem. Right now, I am not thinking about what people say. I am just focusing on what I have to do. I just want to do well for my country. That’s the only thing I am focusing on. I take the challenge positively. Now I have to see what I can learn, and what I can do to improve.
In your young career, you have played almost all your ODI matches with Dhoni. What part of his game have you taken inspiration from?
The way he reads the game, that is the first thing. Then, he is always very calm in pressure situations. There are many things to learn from him. And off the field he is always very helpful too. I look to always keep learning from the seniors.
Generally, international players tend to cement their place in limited-overs squads before making the Test squad. You have taken the reverse route. Did it help to have Test experience before ODI experience?
I don’t think about (the differences in) formats too much. Yes, maybe it did help that I played Test cricket first. I got good experience from playing Test cricket. People used to say that Test cricket is the most difficult. So I got to learn a lot, how to build the innings, playing down the order and how to bat with the tail.
There is learning every day in Test cricket. Especially when you have to walk out to bat after having fielded the entire day. That is a different experience. In ODIs and T20Is especially, things happen very fast. I just focus on what I have to do and what I have to learn every day. That is the only focus I have. And the more you play at the international level and the more experience you gain, the more you learn. Be it any format.
You moved to Delhi from Rourkee at a young age to focus on your cricket. Whose idea was that?
The decision was my father’s because at that time Uttarakhand did not have BCCI affiliation (and hence no first-class team). So he knew that there was no point playing in Uttarakhand and that I had to move out somewhere. That is why he sent me to Delhi. If you are going out of your state, you are taking a risk. But then I had to take it because if I had continued playing in Rourkee, there would have been no point in playing cricket.
My family supported me at every step, whatever situation I found myself in. My family was always with me, backed me and helped me. It was challenging, of course. Everyone has a (difficult) journey. I also had one. But I knew that at the end of the day, I’ll get success sooner or later.
How comfortable are you batting at No. 4 in ODI cricket? You showed the right application in that position in the World Cup semi-final before you threw it away.
I loved batting at No. 4. It was nothing new for me as I have played at No. 4 before, like in the IPL. I had been practicing for the same role.
But the criticism against you for that position is that you are uni-dimensional in your style of play while the No.4 slot requires the ability to adjust according to the situation.
There is no specific way or style I play in. I always play according to situation. I don’t know what people say, because I don’t read newspapers much. The only thing I am focusing on is that I have to play according to the situation, see what the team needs from me and how I can make the team win.
You tend to play some breathtaking shots that tend to catch bowlers off-guard. Where did you learn them?
My coach has always told me one thing: every year you have to add something to your game. You can’t stagnate because now the technology is so good that you have to keep improving and add on things each and every day of your career.
That’s what I try to do. I just keep on trying new things. If it helps me, I try it in a match. There are days when I try these new shots in the nets, some days I don’t. It is all part of a long-term process.
You were made captain of your first-class team at a very young age. Did that help you read the game better as a wicket-keeper?
When I got the opportunity to captain Delhi, I was happy. It is easier for a wicket-keeper to adjust the field. In any other position, it is not easy to assess all the angles. Also, as a wicket-keeper you have to read the game situation and also read the batsman. A wicket-keeper can anyway help the bowler much more than regular fielders. So when I became the captain, it came naturally to me.
Do you focus on improving your wicket-keeping as much as your batting? During your short Test career, former players such as Farokh Engineer have pointed out your technical issues when it comes to wicket-keeping.
As a player, no one is perfect. The only thing I can try to do is improve. And I am happy to take suggestions from anyone. If someone wants to help me, they can come to me directly. I don’t have any problems in learning from anyone.
Speaking of learning, what is it like to play in a team with modern-day greats like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma?
The best thing about this team is that you can talk to anyone and ask them for advice. And if you feel like you have a suggestion, you too can pitch in. Virat bhaiyya always listens, he never thinks like if he is the captain he shouldn’t listen to a youngster. In fact, it gives players like me great confidence that your captain is listening to you, taking your suggestions, even though you are just a youngster. That is a very big deal for me.
The other senior players also help me a lot. Young players don’t tend to get overawed in such situations when the senior players help you.
Do you miss leading the life of a normal 21-year-old?
Never. Maybe 10-15 years down the line, I may start feeling that way. But not now. If you are doing the thing you have worked hard to achieve since childhood, how can you feel that way?

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