Coming back to life ft. Pant: The revival journey of Rishabh to international cricket

With the Indian keeper set to represent India for the first time since his accident in the upcoming T20 WC, a deep dive in understanding his surgery, the long rehab, comeback and more...
Coming back to life ft. Pant: The revival journey of Rishabh to international cricket
Photo | IPL

The ortho department at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital is where bones and joints meet the surgeon's knife on an hourly basis. On an average Monday evening in May, about 30 patients are waiting to meet their doctors. Some are repeat patients, hoping the big white plaster running from just above the knee to the ankle can be removed. Others, walking gingerly, hoping to avoid surgery. A few, like Mayank Yadav, the tearaway pace sensation who caused quite the stir in the IPL, are here to learn about their prognosis.

Away from sport, actor R Madhavan has been here. A world-famous musician has also moved through this hall. Suffice it to say the doctors here have seen all kinds. Ugly injuries. Shattered bones. Ligament tears. Broken ankles. They have seen it all.

Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. The walls in his office are adorned with memorabilia gifted by athletes
Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. The walls in his office are adorned with memorabilia gifted by athletesExpress

In the first week of January 2023, Dinshaw Pardiwala, head of sports medicine at the hospital, saw Rishabh Pant in the flesh for the first time since the career-threatening accident just before New Year's Day.

Pardiwala, the surgeon responsible for fixing Pant's knee, hadn't seen anything as crazy as that injury in a long time. The surgeon who had treated everybody from PV Sindhu to Neeraj Chopra to Sachin Tendulkar had a more fundamental challenge on his hands.  

Elite sport could wait. First, the surgeon had to make good on the promise to Saroj, Rishabh's mother. "He will walk again and have a normal gait," is what he told her. It had come with a significant caveat. "Everything after that is going to be a bonus."  

On this Monday, a few days after Pant made it into the squad for the T20 World Cup in the US and  West Indies, Pardiwala couldn't stop marvelling at Pant's comeback.

"What can I say," he asks this daily. "Miracle man."  

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Here's Pardiwala, who explains with the help of a miniature knee prop on his table. "Knee dislocations themselves are bad," he begins. "When you dislocate your knee, you break everything. When you talk about the ACL, it's one ligament. Like the ACL, you have other ligaments -- PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament), MCL (Media Cruciate Ligament) and the LCL (Lateral Cruciate Ligament)... you have the quadriceps tendon, you have the menisci... it's a complex injury because you have multiple things breaking and tearing. In the dislocation, you have got two types. You have sports dislocations which are low-velocity ones because the trauma and force are not bad. These are typically injuries in rugby, football, gymnastics and wrestling.  

"There are also high-velocity dislocations, what we typically see in automobile accidents. It's high-velocity because the trauma and the injury is so much more. Now, low-velocity knee dislocations are already a challenge because you need to do multiple things to get that person back (to a fit state). Vinesh was that. To have a high-velocity knee dislocation and then get back to elite sport, that's daunting."

Pardiwala called it daunting for multiple reasons. One, there wasn't any precedent of an elite athlete suffering a high-velocity knee dislocation before coming back to the same level as before. Secondly, not in a sport where 'you need to flex completely and do a minimum of 400 squats in a day if you are playing a Test'.

"Can we achieve that?" Pardiwala broke it down. "Get the surgery done," was the first step. "Get the structures back to normalcy, let that heal. Get the movement and the strength back. Get the functioning capabilities of running, jumping and squatting. That was before getting the skill base, batting and wicket-keeping. For me, that was a challenging injury."   

Similarly, he broke down the stages involved in the process to Rishabh and his mother. "Surgery," he told them, "is the first step. "Post that, a period of recovery. Then comes a slow process of rehabilitation. There are so many milestones in this process so let's take one step at a time in this ladder.  

"As we clear one step, it's one step away from the problem and one step closer to the goal."  

Because of the very nature of these injuries, it's no surprise that surgeons have to become mental conditioning coaches as well. Pardiwala explains. "The first thing is accepting the fact that you have an injury and you are not going to be playing for some amount of time," he says. 

"At that point, your treating doctor becomes a mental conditioning coach. As surgeons, we have to help our patients through it and get them to understand a) the nature of the injury and b) be truthful and honest with them.

"Rishabh asked me two questions. 'How quickly can I get back? Will I get back?'," Pardiwala remembers. "He survived this crash, a lot of Indians don't survive high-velocity crashes like the one he had. The fact that he had survived is miracle No. 1'." Why was it significant that the southpaw didn't have a torn blood vessel?

"In high-velocity crashes, there is a 50% incidence of blood vessels being torn," Pardiwala explains. "When that is torn and you don't repair it within six hours, you could lose your limbs. Luckily, he didn't have a blood vessel injury. That's miracle No. 2."

Miracle No. 3 was Pant getting back to elite cricket. That's why Pardiwala coined that term — "Miracle Man" — in a documentary aired before the IPL.

When the pathway for Pant became clear, he kept pushing the boundaries. Getting his movements back. Walking with crutches. Walking without it. Going to the washbasin and back. Squatting. "All his timelines were faster than you would have expected," Pardiwala says. "We were pushing for the World Cup. But he was like, 'If I don't perform in the IPL, I would not be picked for the World Cup. So, my aim is the IPL. I need to be fit as well as perform before that'."

So, he kept pushing and pushing.

Pravin Amre, batting coach of the Delhi Capitals, picks up the story. "We had a pre-season camp in Visakhapatnam," he tells this daily. "He was coming back after more than a year out and we had to stop him on multiple occasions. He was under observation from the physios and he wasn't done after training 30 minutes if the session was just 30 minutes long for him. He wanted to bat more. At that point, nobody was aware how long he would be able to cope (in the training session). We didn't want him to break down. He was enjoying every session.


"I will give you another example. We were training in Lucknow. He got hit on the toe by (Anrich) Nortje. He refused to come out. He was out there practicing and finished his session."

Amre of course has seen Pant's evolution from when he was a teen. "I first saw him at a trial in 2016," the former India international says. "It was at a trial in Gurgaon, a very low, slow wicket. The other batters were struggling but Pant was hitting sixes in that ground. After he joined us, the third year was special. What can I say about the way he recovered from his accident? Tremendous will power."

When Pant returned for his first competitive match — against Punjab Kings on March 23 — Shai Hope was at the other end when the skipper walked out. "I had chills," Hope had said in an interview to this daily in early April. "Hopefully, he can go from strength to strength and show the world what he has to offer."

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On June 5, Pant may be able to tick the final 'milestone' Pardiwala had described. Represent the national team for the first time since the accident.

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