Rishab Pant. - Special Arrangement

It was impossible to disregard the storm Pant whipped up through a Ranji Trophy season. © Special Arrangement

Set a target of 150 by Tata Sports Club in a Group B match of the DY Patil Twenty20 Cup in Navi Mumbai on Friday (January 6), Reliance One romped home by seven wickets with ten balls to spare. Rishabh Pant, their opener, was the chief architect of the win as he hit five sixes and two fours in his 14-ball 43.

Pant, though, was disappointed that he got out before completing the job. He had not even settled down in the dugout when his mood changed as Yuzvendra Chahal informed him about his selection in the Indian team for the three-match T20 International series against England, the first of which is in Kanpur on January 26.

“It’s a proud feeling,” Pant, the only rookie in the side, told Wisden India over telephone. “Chahal bhai broke the news to me. He told me my name is in the squad, so I asked him to show it to me (before I believed it).”

He was inundated with interview requests since then, and after a while Pant switched it off to take a break. Such has been the clamour that he has not had a chance to speak to his family properly also. “My family members got to know before me. I was in the match, they were not in the match,” he said. “I spoke once, but haven’t got much time to talk to them since then. There have been so many calls coming that I had to switch off my mobile for a while.”

Also read: Keep left, smash long – the Rishabh Pant way

In many ways, Pant’s call into the national team was not completely surprising. The clean hitting abilities of the 19-year-old has been one of the biggest talking points of the ongoing Ranji Trophy season. He made his first big statement against Maharashtra when he scored 326-ball 308 after wicketkeeping for 175 overs. He became the third youngest Indian after Wasim Jaffer and Abhinav Mukund, and the second Indian wicketkeeper after KS Bharat to score a triple ton. Before that game, he had made a 124-ball 146 against Assam.

With Mahendra Singh Dhoni having given up limited-overs captaincy, the selectors have an opportunity now to groom the second-line of wicketkeepers with Dhoni there to provide guidance. That is where Pant has a chance to make a big impression.

The second big show came against Jharkhand when he became only the sixth Delhi batsman to score twin centuries in a match. The second century came off just 48 balls – the fastest by an Indian where balls have been recorded. Pankaj Dharmani, former India wicketkeeper and now a match referee, had told us in December last year that Pant’s hitting in Delhi’s game against Odisha was “phenomenal”.

His form dipped after that as Delhi failed to qualify for the knockouts, but Pant’s aggregate of 972 runs at 81 was hard to ignore. His strike-rate of 107.28 is so far the best among all batsmen with 200 or more runs in the competition.

Pant said he was disappointed that the team missed out on a knockout berth, but was half-expecting higher recognition after his performances.

“It was disappointing to not have qualified for the quarterfinals. It would have given me a chance to touch the 1000-run mark is what I had thought,” admitted Pant. “I was feeling there might be a chance after the kind of scores I made.”

Pant is a visible beneficiary of the open communication channel that the new senior national selection committee headed by MSK Prasad have created. Prasad had spoken to Pant individually, asking him to not get carried away by the hype created in the media and to keep on delivering. Pant said the interactions were helpful.

Also read: Present perfect, future promising for exciting Pant

With Mahendra Singh Dhoni having given up limited-overs captaincy, the selectors have an opportunity now to groom the second-line of wicketkeepers with Dhoni there to provide guidance. That is where Pant has a chance to make a big impression.

It has been a rollercoaster year for Pant. After hitting the fastest fifty in the history of youth cricket against Nepal in the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh in February last year, he was bought for Rs 1.9 crore by Delhi Daredevils. He left his mark in the Indian Premier League too by being the second youngest to score a fifty.

Critics have often pointed out that Pant’s one-gear style of play could prove fatal in the long run, but for now he is on cloud nine.

“Nothing has changed since the Under-19 World Cup. I have only worked harder. I will try to capitalise whatever chance I get by doing well. That’s my only thought now, nothing else,” he said. “Bilkul excited hun, baaki wahan jaake pata lagega (I am excited, more I will get to know when I get to the dressing room).”