The IPL starts today, and the player I'm most excited to see is playing tomorrow against CSK: Rishabh Pant. He's 23, dominates all three formats, and is in the form of his life. Find me someone who doesn't love watching him bat!
Cricket is supposed to be a difficult game. Be it the drawn-out intensity of a test match, or the skill needed for a t20, cricket poses challenges to batters and bowlers in all forms. And that's what makes it so good, seeing individuals struggle against an opponent makes for a contest that is unique.
Rishabh Pant rejects this notion.
Cricket appears no struggle to Pant, he is not enslaved by the enormity of the game, but instead dominates opponents, and cricket, alike. Be it reverse-sweeping the new ball in a test match, or a death bowler in a t20, his method is consistent, and though it appears reckless, it is the epitome of peak performance. No bowler can break him, no boundary can hold him, no cricketing weight can drag him down, there is no counter to him. He is, quite simply, too good. And that is explains why he's so good, in that his opponents look not only mortal, but weak, and answerless when compared to him. He dominates yes, but he does so in a manner that oozes ease, and offers his audience the chance to laugh at how good he is.
Pant's first IPL game was in 2016, but it was 2017 where he really shone. At just 19, he hit 366 runs, at the brilliant strike-rate of 165.61, with a 43 ball 97 the best knock, including nine sixes, one of which was cut over cover second ball! This knock, which saw Pant play with his now trademark leg-side swinging, made a chase of 209 simple for the Delhi Daredevils side.
In 2018, Pant proved he was not a one-season wonder. In 14 matches he hammered 684 runs at a strike-rate of 173.6, finishing second on the run-scoring charts. The best knock was his 128*. Impressive right? And it was against Sunrisers Hyderabad, the best bowling attack in the competition, with Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. And the Delhi side only got to 187, with nobody else passing 30! Pant took 26 off Kumar's last five balls, and even managed to hammer Rashid Khan, including a 90 metre six off the toe of the bat!
Pant's best IPL knock came in 2019 though, in the Delhi Capitals' opening game v the Mumbai Indians. Walking in at 112-3 after 13 overs, Pant dragged Delhi to 213-6, hammering seven sixes and seven fours, on his way to a 27 ball 78. Yes, that's seventy-eight from just twenty-seven! This included two sixes and a four off Jasprit Bumrah at the death, in an outrageous display of hitting, to which the eventual tournament winners had no answer.
Sadly, we were not treated to best of Pant in 2020's IPL, but what the previous years show, is that when he gets it right, he is the best hitter in the world. Pant not only is pure intent, but he is totally fearless in his cricket. This mantra in a young Indian is so rare (see KL Rahul's "strike-rates are very, very overrated" comment!), and it makes him so special that's he's so good with this attitude as well.
So after a poor 2020 IPL, how will Pant fare this year?
Brilliant, I'd guess.
He hammered 77 from 40 and 78 from 62 in the two ODIs he played against England, and made some useful cameos in the T20Is. But his Test form has been brilliant this year.
I've always rated him as a test player, given he'd made a test hundred in England (114 off 146 in the 5th test in 2018) and in Australia (159* off 189 in the fourth test of the 2018/19 tour). But Pant's recent test record has been brilliant, and not in the sense that he gets runs, but the situation, and manner in which he does them. Few players have that genuine game-changing ability, and Pant showed it in all it's glory in Australia. Having not been selected for the white-ball tour down under in 2020, and not playing the first test, Pant made the series his own.
He hit 274 runs in five innings, and after two failures, he played a blinder at the SCG. India, needing to bat four sessions for a draw, were going along nicely, but with no real chance of reaching the 407 needed. Then Pant arrived at five, and he launched into Australia, with a 118 ball 97. While he fell short of getting them close to the target, the innings shifted momentum away from the Aussies.
But it was the fourth test at the Gabba were Pant really shone. Chasing 328 for the game and the series, Pant was still aggressive, but showed his patience and maturity, finishing 89* off 138, as India fought to a famous three wicket victory.
At home against England, Pant shone again. He made 270 runs in six innings at an average of 54. There was a defiant 91 off 88 in the first test defeat, with five sixes. In the second, he made a useful 58* from 77 to boost India's first innings total.
Pant's best came in the fourth test though, a brilliant hundred. He came in at 80-4, and even at 121-5 and 146-6, his 118 ball 101 brought India to 365, a knock that won him the player of the match award.
This recent form will likely serve Pant well in the IPL. He's been striking the ball beautifully, not only over the legside and down the ground, but has hit some great shots through the covers as well.
Fingers crossed his golden form keeps going in IPL 2021, because if he does, the Delhi Capitals, who he'll be captaining, may have a chance of success. And even if it doesn't work out for him and the Capitals, I really hope we get to see one brilliant partnership with Shimron Hetmyer, because that'd be great!
Pant has 2079 runs in 68 IPL games, at an average of 35.23 with the strike-rate of 151.97, including 12 fifties and a hundred.
Internationally, he has three test hundreds and six fifties in 20 games, averaging 45.26 and striking at 71.47.
In all t20 cricket, he has a boundary percentage of 20.5%!
So, make sure to watch out for Pant this year in the IPL. Because on his day, he is the best t20 batter in the world.
To read more about the IPL, check out our preview here.
And for info on auction strategy and youngsters to watch, read part one of my interview with Dan Weston here.
The second part of the interview, which discusses t20 is available here.