THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Two incidents on the eve of the Delhi-Jharkhand Ranji Trophy match at St Xavier's ground deserve mentioning. The Delhi team, which came for practice, couldn't take to the ground because of heavy rain. Some players waited in the dressing room, chatting away, while a couple others moved out of the hut to take a stroll under the sun shade. Among them was Rishabh Pant, who has been having a dream run this season.
While trying to come down, his feet almost slipped of the stairs, wet due to rain. This was followed by a huge sigh from teammates.?Rishabh, kya kar raha he tu? Sambhalke. Bola tha na tere ko,? a senior player caringly chided him.
Bowling coach Amit Bhandari also had similar words for him. What was in this 19-year-old that inspired sighs among players when he was about to take a minor fall? Two days later, Delhi coach Bhaskar Pillai almost had an answer. I'm banking on him for runs, he said.
This came after his awe-inspiring first-innings 117, which comprised eight sixes. On Tuesday, he shone brighter, hitting the fastest ton in Ranji history. Coming in just 48 balls, it was laced with 13 sixes.
On his way to the record books, he crossed several milestones. The second-most sixes (21) ever in any first-class match, highest run-getter this Ranji season (799) and most number of sixes so far this season (44) some of them.
Though it is to be seen how he fares against a quality pace attack on a sporting wicket, there is no denying that he is a talent to watch out for. The sight of him hitting through the line with the full face of the bat is as endearing as it is refreshing. His bat comes down straight with a full face, and once he connects, it's out of the park. Good thing is he connects almost every ball, noted Bhaskar, before adding that Pant has the talent to make the India squad.
But Pant chose not to look that far. "I'm focusing on this Ranji season for now," he said.
Confessing that he still has proverbial butterflies in the stomach when getting to the crease, the Haridwar-born lad however, makes sure the feeling ends before the bowler takes his first strides. I've got that feeling even now, even after playing a couple of matches, he said after the last day of the match.
Yet, he makes sure that the bowlers don't see it. Once I start batting, I forget about the bowler. Only the balls remain in my focus, he said with a grin.
He also espouses a weird logic: That bowlers have an upper hand in the game because they have got a second chance. Batsmen don't have that chance. Bowlers just need one good ball to get us out. We have only one chance,he surmised.
Maybe this belief has got something to do with his game. His thoughts are akin to Virender Sehwag. And that makes him double dangerous.
On the eve of the match, half-an-hour after Pant induced a sigh among his companions, another team had trouped to the ground to have a closer look at the field the Jharkhand players. Rains had by then subsided, but they didn't go for practice.
A couple of them moved to the nets, while some others stayed on the pitch. And at one corner of the ground, beneath a freshly hitched canopy, sat another wicket-keeper batsman, glued to his thoughts and away from surroundings. He was resting his back against the chair, running his fingers across the back of the bat and looking far ahead.
Was he musing on his game? Or was he just transcending back to the shell in search of inner voices that could help him see past the vagaries of the domestic season? Only Ishan Kishan, the teenage sensation, can answer what he was up to. But it was evident that his compatriots were more than consenting to let him enjoy the solitude. A liberty that is seldom afforded to a teenager. Unless he is skilled, wise beyond his age.
Ishan, on the first-day pitch itself, showed why he should be reverred. That 273-run knock was the produce of sublime skill. Even drawing applause from the rival coach. Ishan is one such player who is growing dangerous each day. I think he and Pant will one day play for the country. commented Jharkhand spinner Shahbaz Nadeem. But to make it into the national squad requires a stroke of luck, besides talent, and there is no better person to vouch for that than Bhaskar, who never got a national team call-up despite being a wonderful batsmen who was among the runs in the late 80s.
But given that both are southpaws, and wicketkeepers, they will stay bright in the selectors' radar. Can they justify the gut instincts of many of their well wishers? Only time will tell.