Rishabh Pant (in the picture) plays for Delhi Daredevils, whose batting coach in Pravin Amre © AFP
Rishabh Pant (in the picture) plays for Delhi Daredevils, whose batting coach in Pravin Amre © AFP

One was the wicketkeeper, the other the skipper. They made India proud in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year, finishing second. Note the names — Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan. You will hear them a lot in times to come — if the two teenage sensations live up to their talent, that is. The 19-year-old Pant has amassed 799 runs from 5 Ranji Trophy games this season. They include 4 hundreds — one triple and another off 48 balls, the fastest First-Class hundred by an Indian. The Delhi teenager relaxes at the top of the Ranji Trophy charts with 799 runs at 114.14; perhaps as telling is his strike rate, a phenomenal 113.

Is it a dream-come-true for the young lad, who was exceptional in the Under-19 World Cup as well. “But the dream you talk about is playing for India. Only then will I even use the word dream with regards to my cricket,” Pant told The Indian Express after his whirlwind knock against his best friend Kishan’s Jharkhand. Earlier, Kishan had scored 273, but Pant did not let his friend outshine him. He followed his 106-ball 117 with a 67-ball 135 in the same match. He is taking it one step at a moment, and is currently focusing on the learning bit.

He likes to keep it simple. He knows the ground reality: “People are calling me and talking about this innings only because it’s a record. Otherwise why would it even get a mention? Regardless of how many balls it came in, it still counts only as a hundred. If anything I should have made it a bigger score.”

Pant impressed in his limited shows in the IPL 2016. Playing for Delhi Daredevils (DD) he smacked an impressive 69 against Gujarat Lions in Rajkot. He smashed his fifty from 25 balls and became the second-youngest player in the history of the league to score a fifty. He guided Delhi to a comfortable 8-wicket win against table-toppers Gujarat, also in Rajkot, on Tuesday.

Former India batsman and DD’s batting coach Pravin Amre watched the youngster from close quarters. He told the reporters: “Firstly, we spotted him in India U-19, the way he got a 150 there. Being from Delhi Daredevils camp, we were on a lookout for a local boy, a local boy and very exciting talent. After that I actually saw in the DD camp there, where he was batting on the Palam ground.”

Amre spoke as he launched ‘AllRounder’ at Ryan International School in Malad, Mumbai on Wednesday. A venture by Dream Sports Fields, this state of art indoor cricket coaching facility is powered by PitchVision’s cricket coaching technology.

Further speaking on Pant’s strength that impressed him, Amre praised his confidence and self-belief.

“The kid was hitting it so sweetly and effortlessly and was also making the batting look graceful. His timing was great. It is always nerves when you start your IPL career but this chap looked confident. In this Ranji season, he has over 700 runs, smashing 4 hundreds. The last one is special, the fastest hundred. He is a very good striker and is confident. He has immense self-belief and that sets him apart,” added Amre, who has played 11 ODIs and 37 Tests for India.

Can he bang open the selection doors?

Pant had hoped to be a part of the Manish Pandey-led India A side that toured Australia earlier this year. The youngster was ignored and that hurt him. He had famously said at that time: “Yes, I won’t deny that I was very hurt after I didn’t make it to the India A team’s tour of Australia, but then I realised that I have to score plenty of runs. Itna runs banaoon ki koi ignore na kar sake (I will core so much runs that no one can ignore me).

At this moment Pant is not merely knocking on the selection doors: he is looking to break them open. It will not be easy though. In limited-overs, India still have MS Dhoni, while Wriddhiman Saha is doing a terrific job in Test cricket. However, with this kind of form, Pant may just break in as a specialist batsman.

Amre, however, feels there is still time: “Even being picked for India A is a challenge in this competitive environment. If he has 1,000 runs behind him before getting there, it will help him. We got a good process here in India. We go step-by-step and that is important. He has the age on his side. He is batting brilliantly right now and should continue doing that. He surely must be in selector’s radar.”

Versatility

In the Indian Express interview Pant candidly admitted about Ranji Trophy being the learning stage: “I have also learnt so much, like patience and batting with the tail that I learnt during my triple-ton. Today, it was all about backing my game to the hilt.”

Emphasising on Pant’s versatility, Amre mentions: “When he came he made a statement that he can hit. That is why he climbed the ranks in T20 but in Ranji Trophy you get to learn a lot. He needs this particular type of innings, which we saw, batting for scoring 300, you really need concentration for that and he did. It is always credible to get 100 in 48 balls. He scores at a fast pace and can smack the ball hard. He plays spin well.”

The DD scouts spotted Pant and he fetched a whopping INR 1.9 crore in the auctions. Sunil Valson, the man who was a part of the squad during India’s World Cup triumph in 1983, is a part of DD support staff and spoke highly of the youngster as he has seen him progress in his younger days.

Pant is another product from the Sonnet Club that that has produced top players like Raman Lamba, Ajay Sharma, Atul Wassan, Shikhar Dhawan, Ashish Nehra and others. Even Subodh Bhati did well last season for Delhi in limited-overs. Pant considers his Sonnet coach Tarak Sinha a father figure and Nehra a ‘great guide’.

Here is a chance for Indian cricket to groom a man, or let us call him a boy, who can be passed on MS Dhoni’s big gloves in limited-overs cricket. It is not the media pressure: with these stellar shows, it is him who has applied the pressure on himself, how he thrives will determine his way ahead.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully [Twitter] and rivu7 [Facebook].)