While the Monsoon is in full swing here, India’s much-vaunted top-order is going through a long spell of drought. Chief and most worrying among them is the 78-innings century drought of Virat Kohli, followed by captain Rohit Sharma, who hasn’t scored a white-ball hundred since 2020, though he hasn’t looked totally out of form as his predecessor. Then comes Shikhar Dhawan, whose last triple-figure score in the second innings came way back in 2018.
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This has, time and again, left the job of heavy lifting to a relatively inexperienced middle-order. On Sunday evening in Manchester, India found themselves in a similar position after losing Rohit, Dhawan, and Kohli for a combined total of 35. To see Rishabh Pant in the middle in the ninth over is not a great sight.
And ahead of him was a seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb. A series was at stake, but there were some personal scores to settle for Pant as well, whose thrilling approach in the white-ball game hasn’t been as big a hit as it has been in Test cricket.
While Pant has been brilliant in the ODI ever since he was called back into the side last year, for the series against the same opponent, there hasn’t been an innings of note, a sort of knock that stays with the viewers for a long time.
Again, much of it has to do with the lofty standards he has set for himself, and part of it has also to do with the continuous failure of our top-order, that we have started to expect Pant to rescue this team whenever they are stuck in choppy waters. Just a couple of days ago, the burden slipped on Pant, after he came to the crease at 29/2, and departed for a five-ball duck after playing a lousy shot.
With the series levelled at 1-1, India were not in a position to afford two back-to-back failures from Pant. The context was not ripe for him to take his usual high-risk-low-reward approach, as losing another wicket would have effectively ended the game, and thus the series, for India. He had to abide by his time – a virtue we never associate with this hard-handed left-hander – and wait for the opportune moment for boundaries. He waited. The first 10 runs came from only singles, and only on the 24th ball did he find the first boundary.
It was an outside edge off Craig Overton that flew past Buttler. After playing 60 balls, he had scored 42 runs, with the help of three boundaries, and was once reprieved against Moeen Ali, when Buttler failed to stump him out. But that was the only instance he blinked. He reached his half-century on the 71st ball. In a 133-run stand for the fourth wicket, Pant relied heavily on singles and doubles, and he was able to find those with ease, while Pandya took the aggressive route and found the boundary on nearly every fifth ball he played.
In the 41st over, Pant ddapped to square leg to complete his maiden ODI century, and also became only the third Indian wicket-keeper, after Rahul Dravid and KL Rahul, to reach the three-figure mark in England. Once when the match slipped totally out of the opponent’s grip, Pant returned to his original self, playing free-flowing cricket, and striking five successive boundaries against David Willey.
When everyone expected him to go make it six in a row, Pant simply pushed the ball towards mid-wicket for a single. As they say, you never know what’s coming when Pant is on the strike. He finished the game in the next over with his trademark reverse-sweep.
“Hopefully I remember (this knock) for the rest of my life. I was focusing on one ball at a time when I was batting. When your team is under pressure and you bat like that .. something I aspire to do. I always enjoy playing in England, at the same time enjoy the atmosphere and the situation,” said Pant in the post-match ceremony.
Featured Image Credit: Rishabh pant/Instagram