CHENNAI: To thrive at the Test level, one of the most important skills needed for a batsman is match-awareness.
However skilled he is with the technique, if a player lacks this skill, his career trajectory may take a long time to go up.
On Friday, Rishabh Pant's match awareness was on display when he put India in control during the second day of the fourth Test against England in Ahmedabad. India is now 294-7 with an 89-run lead. It's a thin line separating the good from the best.
Not long ago there was a concern about his unconventional style of play. This match-awareness coupled with maturity — all at 23 — was evident in the way he played his first 82 balls to bring up his half-century when India was wobbling at 121-5.
It steadied the ship after which he accelerated to notch up his first century at home to put India in command. It was an innings of two halves. To put things in perspective, India took tea at 153 for six, having lost Rohit Sharma for 49 off 144 balls, and trailing by more than 53 runs. The way the hosts scored just 56 runs in 22.5 overs in the first session suggested that England — who missed the opportunity to score big on Day 1 — clawed back into the game with James Anderson and Ben Stokes exerting pressure.
With Pant batting on 36 and Ravichandran Ashwin at the crease, the match was evenly poised with England controlling the game with their four-bowler attack and also raising hopes of an unexpected first-innings lead. It was when Pant, along with Washington Sundar, showed that India would not let the guard down easily — something that has been seemingly evident since the tour of Australia.
Under the pressure of a deficit that could prove costly on this pitch, Pant's knock was magnificent in this context. He buckled down with the intention of seeing out the threat on a surface that was still assisting pacers on the second day. But once he crossed the 50-run mark, his confidence multiplied. Boring was never in his dictionary as he raced from 50 to 100 in 33 balls, after "accessing the pitch".
What he showed on Friday was controlled aggression, trusting his defence in the initial phase and then playing his high-risk, high-reward style. Going after an experienced pacer, especially when the new ball is taken, is something even the best batsmen would refrain from doing, but Pant being Pant dared to do it. That included a reverse-flick off Anderson for four.
"The plan was just to build a partnership when I joined Rohit, that was the only thing on my mind," said Pant at stumps.
"I was thinking I would assess the pitch and then play my shots. If the bowlers are bowling well respect it and take the singles, and that was on my mind. I like to play the situation and I just see the ball and react — that's the USP (unique selling point) of my game."
During the innings, he also shared a crucial 113-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Washington, who would then go on to remain unbeaten on 60. At stumps, India's lead swelled to 89 runs with three wickets in hand.
"The team plan was to get to 206, past the England total, and then get as many runs as possible after that. You have to premeditate reverse-flicks, but if luck is going your way you can take the odd chance. I get the license most of the time, but I have to assess the situation and take the game head on," added Pant.