Did you know Rishabh Pant’s first cricket lessons were on the terrace of his house?
On the cemented terrace of his house in Roorkie, Uttarakhand, Rajinder Pant would tie a pillow to the chest of his little son, Rishabh and bowl with a cork ball from a close distance to help his son let go of any fear over facing fast bowlers.
This coupled with Maltova-mixed milk strengthened Rishabh's muscles — a testimony of which was seen in Brisbane on Tuesday as he recorded an unbeaten 89 and helped India hammer Australia for the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
This novel practice by Pant’s father appears to be one of the contributing factors to Rishabh’s fearless, determined game.
Anyone who watched him speed up during his 138-ball knock in the fourth and final Test against Australia at the Gabba on Tuesday would vouch that Pant had learnt well from his father.
Unfortunately, Rishabh's father is no more and did not get to watch his talented 23-year-old son play what could be the most important innings of his fledgling Test career.
Back in 2019, Rajinder Pant had said, "I used to make him practice with a cork ball on the cemented rooftop of our Roorkee home where the ball came off faster. There was no turf pitch in the city at the time. I used to tie a pillow to his chest so that my little boy didn't get hurt while facing faster deliveries. But he did get hurt; he sustained fractures. It was also meant to take the fear (of facing fast bowling) out of him. That was extra coaching, apart from the coaching he received in school.”
The cricketer’s own passion and dedication for the game developed tremendously with his father’s lessons. He would take two tiffin boxes to school to save time for cricket practice after school hours; he would eat from one during school and from the other after his daily extra cricket practice sessions after school.
Observing the talent their son possessed, Rajinder and his wife Saroj took the momentous decision to send Rishabh to Dronacharya Awardee coach, Tarak Sinha in Delhi.
Commuting to and from Roorkie was a challenge. However, his mother took up that responsibility. She would wake up in the middle of the night to catch the 3 AM bus from Roorkee to Delhi for an arduous five-hour journey with her son, so that he would be able to attend the Sinha-run Sonnet Club's net practice sessions on Saturdays and Sundays at Sri Venkateswara College in south Delhi.
She and her son would often stay at a Gurudwara (a Sikh place of worship) near the college on weekends so that he could practise on Sundays.
After growing up, when Pant rented accommodation and started living in Delhi, Sinha took up the role of his local guardian after approval from his parents.
Now, in what came as a touching gesture, Pant called up Sinha on WhatsApp after India's victory on Tuesday and receiving the Man of the Match award. The coach was ecstatic with his ward's performance and congratulated him.
Pant ended up with the highest aggregate for India in the Test series with 274 runs in three matches, and the third overall, behind Aussie’s Marnus Labuschagne (426 runs in four matches), and Steve Smith (313 in four matches).
It was a pleasant coincidence that the day Pant helped India win their second consecutive Test series in Australia, Sinha's sugar levels went down.
"But, on a serious note, I am happy that Rishabh played responsibly and sensibly. His off-side play has also improved, and it was visible today. He started slowly and gradually accelerated his innings; especially after Australia took the second new ball, he hammered several boundaries. Also, he now has a good temperament. And, I have a feeling that the Australians fear him," Sinha told IANS.
Significantly, Pant, who was promoted to No. 5 (in the first innings, he batted at No. 6), remained unbeaten after a three-hour vigil at the crease while facing 138 balls.
"This was in his mind for a long time — to remain unbeaten and take the team to victory — after some people had criticised him for not finishing off matches. He wanted to be a finisher, and he showed it today that he was on his way," Sinha asserted.
"I also pointed out to him that he had missed a few centuries by getting out in the nineties," Sinha added.
Pant has gotten out three times in the nineties - twice against West Indies in 2018 and once in the third Test against Australia in Sydney this month.
On Tuesday, however, he didn't get the opportunity to reach his century as India won and he remained unbeaten at 89. However, his performance may have cemented his place in Test XI and opened a window of opportunity for inclusion in the Indian ODI and T20 teams.
Photo credit: IANS