For more than a decade, Indian cricket fans have been treated to the genius of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. We've cherished his impeccable leadership skills, unorthodox batting and street-smart wicket-keeping. Such has been his success that every kid around the block wants to be the former Indian captain. So, for someone to actually fill Dhoni's big shoes will surely be a daunting task. After all, not every cricketer can replicate this man's success.
But, while not every cricketer can be Dhoni, young Rishabh Pant has proved that you don't need to be. Staying true to his character and skills, Pant has rapidly established his reputation as Dhoni's credible successor. His efficiency on the field has allowed him to leapfrog the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Wriddhiman Saha to become India's first-choice wicket-keeper, not just in limited-overs cricket, but also in the longest format.
For someone who moved around from city to city in his early teens to make a name for himself, Pant had raised a few eyebrows with noticeable performances in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and domestic cricket, which further earned him a debut in limited-overs cricket. But, when the youngster was roped in the Indian side for the testing tour of Australia, Pant, undoubtedly, had the biggest test of his professional career staring right at him.
In a series, that is famous for making or breaking careers, the four-match Test duel between India and Australia once again propelled a youngster to stardom. In a star-studded Indian line-up that included proven match-winners like Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Jasprit Bumrah amongst others, Pant carved his own niche, in his own uncanny manner, making things more interesting in an already entertaining Test series.
From shattering records with his sublime batting performances to poking fun at the opposition batsmen with his hilarious jibes, the 21-year-old aided his team with the willow, etched his name in the history books for his feats and enthralled the spectators with his wit and pun- all that has made him our 'Entertainer No. 1' from the recently-concluded series.
Before anything else, a cricketer, when representing their country, is expected to perform the role assigned to them. And, if anyone has watched the four-match Test series, they'd agree that Pant has not only made a mark, but he has, in fact, strengthen his position as India's preferred wicket-keeping batsman.
In the first match, Pant equalled the world record of taking 11 catches in a single Test. Amid numerous batting geniuses that India boasts of, Pant has emerged as the second highest run-getter in the series. The left-hander amassed 350 runs including the brilliant 159-run knock in Sydney. His batting might also saw him breaking multiple records. His breathtaking innings in Sydney saw him breaking Dhoni's 12-year-old record of the highest score by an Indian wicket-keeper in an overseas Test. He is also the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a Test hundred Down Under. He, now, holds the joint record - with Bangladesh's Mushfiqur Rahim (who scored 159 against New Zealand in 2017) - of the highest score by an Asian wicket-keeper outside the sub-continent.
Pant is also the first wicket-keeper to boast two Test hundreds as a 21-year-old. And, what makes it furthermore special is the fact that both of his Test tons have come outside Asia - a region where sub-continent cricketers are generally expected to prevail. His masterful innings on the second day has now made him the only Indian wicket-keeper to score a hundred in three of the four SENA (South Africa-England-New Zealand-Australia) countries.
Pant might consider Dhoni as his role model, but the young and rising cricketer has his own way of going about things. While Dhoni never really believed in indulging the opposition batsmen in banters, Pant doesn't shy away from firing verbal volleys. During the Adelaide Test, Pant sparked a laugh riot on the social media after his hilarious jibes were caught on the stump mic.
On the second day's play, Pant was caught on the stump-mic saying, "Not everyone is Pujara here, lads," to disrupt the concentration of Australian batsmen, notably Usman Khawaja. And, on the final day, the Indian wicket-keeper was once again in the middle of a hilarious conversation with tail-ender Pat Cummins.
Pant was caught on the stump-mic provoking Cummins to hit a six and saying that it's not easy to survive on the crease. "Let's see some sixes, come on Patty," Pant was heard saying to the Oz batsman. Pant was dishing out revenge for Cummins, who earlier had a few words to say to the Indian wicket-keeper when he was batting in the middle in the first innings.Babysitting Opposing Captain's Kids
Establishing his reputation as a chirpy character, Pant was given a taste of his own medicine in the second innings of the Melbourne Test. Aussie captain Tim Paine minced no words when the Indian wicket-keeper came to bat. "Tell you what big MS is back in the one-day squad. Should get this bloke down to Hurricanes...They need a batter. Fancy that extend you Aussie holiday, beautiful town Hobart too...get him a waterfront apartment. Have him over for dinner. Do you babysit? I can take my wife to the movies while you watch the kids," Paine was caught saying on the stump-mic.
Now, we have generally seen cricketers replying to such banters on the field. But, Pant is no ordinary cricketer. Thus, taking his harmless banter a notch up, the Delhi cricketer got himself clicked in the company of Paine's wife Bonnie while holding one of their two kids in his arms. And, when Bonnie shared the picture with the caption 'Best babysitter' on the social media, cricket fans across the globe hailed the Indian youngster for his sporting attitude.
Reacting to Pant's viral photo with his family, Paine was also all praise for the Indian wicket-keeper. “Yeah, that was interesting. We were at the PM's house yesterday. Just had a quick chat to Rishabh. My wife was happened to be there so we just grabbed a quick photo. He was a good sport and he is on the field, to be honest,” Paine said.Getting His Own Song
For someone who broke records, left a big smile on the faces of opposition batsmen with his hilarious banters and won over fans with his sweet gesture off the field, Pant had everything a cricketer would kill for from a Test series. So, what else could he have asked for? Well, a song should suffice.
The 'Bharat Army', an independent group of Indian cricket fans, bestowed a unique honour on the 21-year-old by coining a special song for him. "We've got Pant. Rishabh Pant. I just don't think you'll understand. He'll hit you for a six. He'll babysit your kids. We've got Rishabh Pant," the Indian fans were heard singing the special Pant song at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
We've got Pant
I just don't think you'll understand
He'll hit you for a six
He'll babysit your kids
We've got Rishab Pant
.#BharatArmySongBook @RishabPant777 #BharatArmy #TeamIndia #12thMan #WeveGotPant #COTI ð®ð³ð¶ð¼ pic.twitter.com/ZiXaPWqi6M
Ever since its release on the social media, the song has turned Pant into a rockstar, garnering all sorts of reactions from the cricket enthusiasts across the globe. It has already garnered 590k views alongside over 7000 retweets and around 24000 likes on Twitter alone.
Pant might not stand tall like Chris Gayle; he may lack the hand-eye coordination of Virender Sehwag; he doesn't look like a power-hitter when compared with someone like Adam Gilchrist, but this Indian youngster still packs a punch whenever he steps out on the field. And, at just 21, while Pant might still be learning the tools of the trade, he has arguably established himself as the one to watch out for in the new generation of Indian cricketers.