Rishabh Pant’s inconsistent brilliance could be just what India needs against Australia

Less than a week before the Australia-India opening test, Rishabh Pant might have just played the stroke that sealed his place in the XI.

The 23-year-old showed his martial best against a tiresome Australian bowling attack in a 73-ball inning that scored 103 runs.

Picking up the pink ball from the empty stands became quite a task for the outfield players when Pant cleared the border ropes six times. Each of his mammoth sixes was hit on the side, and the left-handed man unleashed his signature slog sweeps and wild pulls at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

His century was brought up in a single session, with 22 runs emerging from the last game of the day.

Two years ago, Pant announced its arrival on the test stage at the same location. Against a bowling attack, which consisted of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, the young man from Delhi looted 159 runs and knocked off only 189 deliveries unbeaten.

This century meant Pant became the first Indian wicketkeeper batsman to register overseas test tons in England and Australia after his 114 at Trent Bridge in 2018. The century in Sydney was to lay the foundation for a long and fruitful career in India by a young child prodigy always touted as the future world beater.

Unfortunately for Pant and India it just didn’t work out as expected. Almost 23 months have passed since this outstanding performance in Sydney, in which the South Paw only completed four test appearances.

With Wriddhiman Saha’s safer hands, the senior wicketkeeper has established himself as the first choice on the spin-friendly playing fields in India, with pant only being used for overseas testing.

In the meantime, Pants’s career as a limited-overs at international level has come to a complete standstill, and he was unable to find a place on the ODI or T20I roster in the recent clashes against Australia.

The shorter formats should be his bread and butter due to his extremely aggressive approach to the flap, but a number of mistakes and frustrating inconsistencies have caused his inventory to drop dramatically.

That he was on the verge of losing his spot as India’s overseas test wicketkeeper seemed likely when Saha was knocked over him in the final warm-up match against Australia A. To give Pant another key in the work, Saha helped his own cause with a fight 54 in the second innings of the game.

The last laugh, however, could very well go to Pant after his violent knock on Saturday. It was another timely reminder of why it’s rated so highly and why it’s worth holding on to despite its disagreements.

By the age of 23, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane hadn’t even made their test debuts for India. At the same age, Pant appears to be a veteran with up to 57 international appearances.

We have already seen the best of him, with the knocks from Trent Bridge and Sydney bearing witness. We also saw the ugly side of him ditch his wicket to play an ambitious shot.

Ultimately, it’s a side of Pant that Indian team management has to accept in order to turn him into a world class player.

Saha could have the safer pair of hands and the more stable presence at the flap. But it’s hard to see the veteran turning the match upside down with his hitting performances.

With Pant, there will always be a likelihood of taking the game away from your opponent in a single session. Its ceiling is far superior. It’s the same trait that has accompanied previous greats like Adam Gilchrist and Virender Sehwag, and India is fortunate to have a similar talent on its hands.

Pant’s track record to date in Australia should be enough to justify its selection for the Adelaide Test, and its latest result only bolsters its credentials. It was perhaps not the most elite bowling attack on Saturday when Australia A lost two fast bowlers to an injury. However, Pant’s ability to hit the ball with such vengeance left a lasting impression.

The fact that he also provides a left-handed option at the crease for the Indian hit sequence is a bonus.

Against an impressive Australian team that is number one in the world, visitors need inspiration from every corner to assert themselves. In pants of inconsistent brilliance, only a few could have them.

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