Rishabh Pant's aggression vindicated for India after England's perfect hour | England in India 2020-21

A t the start of the 30th over of India’s first innings Jofra Archer went round the wicket to Rishabh Pant, mixing things up for his firs...


At the start of the 30th over of India’s first innings Jofra Archer went round the wicket to Rishabh Pant, mixing things up for his first go at India’s left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman. But he got his line wrong, sending his first delivery across the 23-year-old – who got the slightest of contacts to send it down the leg-side for four – and then overcorrecting, sending his next wide and straight, and Pant stretched to club that one away for four more.

A spell was broken, and suddenly runs gushed off the bat like steam from a pressure cooker; next over Cheteshwar Pujara hit Dom Bess to long-off for successive boundaries, the over after that Pant topped that with a pair of sixes off Jack Leach, the start of a brutal campaign of intimidation against England’s left-arm spinner that must have left the bowler unsure whether he needed a change of angle or a restraining order.

That Leach was the man underneath the ball when Pant, having twice scored sixes off Leach himself when clearing a fielder by a matter of inches, finally made a significant misjudgment, or that with India’s most destructive batsman gone he rowed his economy rate back from 9.63 to a vaguely respectable 5.53, will provide England’s senior spinner with only slight succour. In truth his self-esteem was just collateral damage as Pant temporarily reshaped the game to his will, wrestling it out of England’s grasp and depositing it 18 rows back in the top tier of the stands.

In the context of the match Pant’s innings, like Root’s over the first two days, was a glorious anomaly. It ended with England annoyed that he hadn’t fallen sooner. “I think how he played was really courageous and actually really bold, and we know he plays like that,” said Bess, “but if one goes straight up there it’s a completely different game, they’re five down and in a big hole.”

It also presumably left many in India and elsewhere disappointed that he fell taking risks when nine short of a century, with his team in trouble, and while providing quite a lot of entertainment. But to accuse Pant of throwing his wicket away is to miss the point. He may yet develop the ability to completely slow or accelerate the rhythm of his batting according to the situation, but for now he remains true to his method.

That it never crossed Pant’s mind to slam on the brakes and nurdle his way to triple figures merely to log a personal milestone and wave his bat at a couple of lonely photographers is all the more remarkable given his history. Here is a young batsman who has played the vast majority of his Test cricket abroad – 25 of 28 innings – and in three knocks on home soil has now never scored fewer than 91 or more than 92.

In the first of those outings, against West Indies in 2018, he hit 92 off 84 balls with eight fours and four sixes before getting caught while attempting to smash a spinner over midwicket; here he hit 91 off 88 with nine fours and five sixes before getting caught while attempting to smash a spinner over cover. They are near-identical innings, though in the first he came in at 337 for four and under little pressure and here he arrived at 73 for four and with a match to rescue. To corrupt a line from Forrest Gump, Pant is nothing like a box of chocolates: you always know what you’re going to get.

Dom Bess dismisses Virat Kohli
Dom Bess celebrates dismissing Virat Kohli during a dominant passage of play for England after lunch. Photograph: SA[i]KAT/Saikat Das/ Sportzpics for BCCI

The scoreline paints only the sketchiest picture of the state of play when he arrived at the crease. In their 14 overs before lunch India scored nine boundaries and 59 runs while losing two wickets; in the 14 overs after lunch – an hour that must stand among the finest ever played by England, so hard would it be to improve on – they scored no boundaries and 14 runs while again losing two wickets. Pant arrived in the 13th of those, and in the next 14 overs they scored 12 boundaries of which four were sixes, a total of 78 runs, lost no wickets, and it was a different game. Still a game India were losing, but one in which their metaphorical clouds were getting increasingly shiny.

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That first hour after lunch, though. Only three bowlers were used: the wicketless James Anderson, who started the session with six immaculate overs at a total cost of four runs; Jofra Archer, having got both openers in the first session, continued to bowl with pace, poise and aggression; and Bess was disciplined, consistent, and in the end decisive. The fielding was immaculate, Root leading by example once again with the low, one-handed catch to dismiss Ajinkya Rahane, but that moment was only possible, for example, because of Rory Burns’s excellent diving stop at short midwicket two balls earlier. England have been on top for most of this match and continue to be, but for this hour India were not just being beaten, they were being bullied. Temporarily, thrillingly, these were tables that Pant managed to turn.

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Newsrust: Rishabh Pant's aggression vindicated for India after England's perfect hour | England in India 2020-21
Rishabh Pant's aggression vindicated for India after England's perfect hour | England in India 2020-21
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