When the Royal Challengers Bangalore took on the Delhi Daredevils at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday night, it was more than just a regular T20 league game in the early stages of the tournament.
Many cricketing enthusiasts sat, glued to their screens, to see how one boy would respond to the most testing phase of his young life. After all, they had seen greats born out of this predicament before. Rishabh Pant, all of nineteen years old and Delhi Daredevils’ wicketkeeper, who had made his international T20 debut a few months ago for India, was bereaved.
Two days ago, his father had passed away, and the day before the match, he was performing the last rites of the funeral at Haridwar. It was therefore most understandable that he wouldn’t immediately take the flight to Bangalore, instead concentrating on spending some time with his family in this tough phase.
But Pant flew back to join an already-weakened Daredevils team. It was what his father would have wanted, he said.
Everybody’s memories jogged back to the last time this had happened to a young batsman. The boy was eighteen, in December 2016, when his father passed away in the middle of an important Ranji match for Delhi against Karnataka. His name: Virat Kohli. He was on the score of 40 overnight, when his father succumbed to a heart attack early next morning. Kohli went out to bat for Delhi, and finished on 90 – saving his team the follow-on in the process. Even without the hovering context, it was an important innings on a tough pitch by a bloody-minded teenager who wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was to perhaps change Kohli’s mental resilience forever.
Before Kohli, another chubby-faced 24-year-old Indian batsman had endured a similar situation. In the middle of the 1999 World Cup in England, Ramesh Tendulkar passed away, which prompted his son Sachin Tendulkar to catch the next flight out for the last rites. He missed India’s group game against Zimbabwe – which they, obviously, went on to lose without him. He was the batting mainstay after a record-breaking year of 1998. Much to everyone’s surprise, he flew back immediately and played the next game against Kenya at Bristol. He scored 140* to win India their first match of the World Cup after two straight losses. It was a display of immense character and fortitude in the face of his life’s biggest tragedy – with the entire weight of a nation on his shoulders at a pressure juncture of the world’s biggest stage.
All this would have no doubt been running through Pant’s grieving mind as he stepped out to play against Bangalore. Even showing up was a victory for everyone watching – and it proved that the kid would scale great heights over the next decade. But Pant went one up – and scored a brilliant 57 to keep his side in the game, almost winning it for them single-handedly by chasing down a total of 157.
Unfortunately for him, Amit Mishra played out four dot balls in the penultimate over, failed to give him strike, which resulted in Pant getting dismissed on the first ball of the last over with 19 still needed. He was livid with himself, but had done more than enough to stun and impress even his own senior teammates. Chris Morris was visibly overwhelmed by his effort, and waxed lyrical about the “specialness” of the kid to do what he just did.
Rishabh Pant isn’t a household name yet. But with the limited-overs retirement of M.S. Dhoni inching closer and closer, Pant is the automatic next-gen selection into a team that has been looking for an explosive left-hander for years. He won’t become the next Dhoni, and he doesn’t intend to. He will be Pant, and perhaps the following generations will want to emulate him. That he is under Rahul Dravid at the Daredevils will help him immensely, after he played a lot of cricket under Dravid for the U19 and “A” teams respectively.