Rishabh Pant has been the topic of a lot of debate in recent times and Rohit Sharma, for one, feels the young wicketkeeper-batsman must be “allowed to do what he wants to do on the field” and be left alone.
After criticism about his shot selection, Pant the wicketkeeper came under scrutiny after he fluffed a chance to stump Liton Das in the second T20I when he collected the ball marginally in front of the stumps, which resulted in the delivery being called a no-ball.
“There’s a lot of talk happening about Rishabh Pant, every day, every minute,” Rohit said on the eve of the third T20I in Nagpur. “I just feel that he needs to be allowed to do what he wants to do on the field. And I would request everyone to just keep your eyes away from Rishabh Pant for a while.
He is a young guy, probably 21-22 now, trying to make his mark in international cricket, every move he makes on the field, people start talking about it.”
While that might be Rohit’s position on Pant, other senior members of the Indian team set-up haven’t shied away from speaking about the youngster in the recent past. Ravi Shastri had called for a “rap on the knuckles” for Pant for his reckless batting, Vikram Rathour had spoken about the importance of being fearless without being careless, and captain Virat Kohli had called on him to read situations better.
“I think it’s not fair, I think we should just allow him to play his cricket, which he also actually wants. And yes, focus on him a lot more when he is doing good things also, not just the bad things,” Rohit said. “He has kept well, he is learning every game, and yes, he is just doing whatever the team management wants him (to do). He is a very fearless cricketer, and we want him to have that freedom. And if you guys just keep your eyes a little bit away from him, it will allow him to perform even better.”
Since the start of the year, Pant has scored just one half-century across limited-overs internationals, making 195 runs in 12 matches at an average of 21.66 in T20Is and 188 runs in nine games at 23.50 in ODIs. He played all three formats in the West Indies in August, but though he was retained in the T20Is against South Africa, he was replaced by Wriddhiman Saha for the Tests.
While former players including Yuvraj Singh have backed Pant, India’s selectors have also made it clear that they want to persist with him across formats.
On being asked what would be his piece of advice to youngsters like Pant – and Shreyas Iyer – Rohit said: “Both of them (are) very talented, have great abilities in whatever they do, and yes, definitely the future of Indian cricket, for sure. And they have proved it whenever they have played for their franchise, domestic cricket. They are just trying to make their mark in international cricket.
“All I would tell them is (to) just understand their game, which is very, very important in whatever format you play, and feeling confident about yourself is very important. I think they are working hard towards their game, and I don’t see any reason why they can’t get the results on the ground. They have everything that is required to be successful at the international level. They work really hard on their games and yes, at the same time they are learning also. They are very new to this set-up. They are learning every game and with experience in a year or two, you will see them batting differently.
“All we want them to do is to just go out there and enjoy, and be fearless. That would be the message from my side. Because as a young player when you are coming into the side, that is what you look forward to, having that freedom from the management. That is what we are here to assure them, that ‘you have all the backing that you need, you have all the freedom that you need, so just go out there and express yourself’. That is when players like these give you the best performance.”
Over to the bowling unit, and while India have been attempting to give more and more players a chance in the lead up to the T20 World Cup next year, not all of them have grabbed their chances yet. Khaleel Ahmed, for one.
“This is the time for youngsters to learn. We always say that playing domestic cricket is important and learn more. Till you don’t play international cricket you won’t know where you stand as a bowler,” Rohit said. “I think this is a good challenge for our bowling group because you’re playing against an international team. They will always challenge you, batsmen will play shots and challenge you. You won’t know where is your bowling until you’re put under pressure. I think for these bowlers it’s a good time to know where they stand.”