Rishabh Pant is a 100-Test cricketer: Kiran More

On September 21, 2014, when a 17-year-old opening batsman Rishabh Pant, representing a Delhi colts team in the under-19 JY Lele All India One-day Invitation Tournament in Baroda, carted eight sixes and 22 boundaries in his 133-ball 186 against a Baroda Cricket Association (BCA) XI, former India wicketkeeper Kiran More immediately noted down his name in his mobile phone.

“Whenever I see a talented boy, I have a habit of noting down his name in my mobile. I said [to myself] ‘he’s a long race horse’. Now, I say he is a 100-Test player, and not just because on Tuesday he was brilliant behind the wickets against England in the second Test,” More, who was chairman of the national selection committee between 2004 and 2006, told IANS.

As if you reassure More, Pant didn’t stop at helping Delhi win that game by 130 runs at the Moti Bagh Stadium. The next day, again playing as an opener, he slammed a 67-ball 120, containing seven sixes and 15 boundaries against a BCA Invitation XI to guide Delhi to a 125-run win.

On Tuesday, Pant effected two jaw dropping stumpings — of Dan Lawrence and Moeen Ali — to help India wrap up the second Test against England on the fourth day. This was in addition to his brilliant, one-handed catches to his left to dismiss Ollie Pope and Jack Leach in the first innings. In addition, he scored a crucial 58 not out in the first innings. This performance showed how much he has improved in the recent past.

“Rishabh Pant has really worked hard in Australia, when he moves with the gloves you can see the difference in his reactions. He has shed a lot of weight and has worked hard on himself. It is showing, the way he kept with so much turn and bounce [on Chennai’s MA Chidambaram Stadium pitch], credit to him. We want him to keep improving as a wicketkeeper because we know the value he brings to the team,” said captain Virat Kohli after India’s 317-run win on Tuesday.

While some experts questioned Pant’s ability as a wicketkeeper and his weight, More says he never had any doubt about his talent and capability.

“Everybody had a question mark against his wicketkeeping. But I never had any. When you don’t allow that boy to play in India, how is he going to learn? To play abroad is more difficult than in India. That’s my simple argument. On turning pitches a wicketkeeper is always going to come into play. Everybody saw today what he can do,” More, who has worked with Pant at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru in a few short stints, pointed out.

Pant has played 14 of his 18 Tests abroad, and only four in India.

“He has taken some great takes; he has effected some great stumpings. On the way, he’s going to miss a few. But he’s just 23 and is going to improve and become the top wicketkeeper in world cricket. His attitude is superb; he doesn’t care. Of course, there is a lot of scope for improvement,” he said.

Former India wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani, too, is very impressed with Pant’s performance in the second Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.

“He’s a bundle of gifted talent. His wicketkeeping and stumpings were marvellous, brilliant. Particularly, his stumping of Lawrence, after the ball had passed between the batsman’s legs, was brilliant because you are blinded while collecting the ball on the leg side. His reflexes, agility etc was superb on a vicious pitch. I don’t have words to express my feelings. He is a game changer for sure,” Kirmani told IANS.

“This boy is abundantly gifted, and he should be left alone, and people should keep encouraging him. He still has to work a lot on his agility and reflexes etc. He has to make a little change in his attitude, because complacency could creep in subconsciously,” said the former chairman of national selection committee.

Pant’s childhood coach Tarak Sinha said that the security of selection has provided confidence to his ward.

“When one is assured of his place in the team he blossoms. That is a major reason for Rishabh’s good performance is this Test. He had the support of the entire team. His reflexes are good and the stumping of Lawrence is a result of those reflexes. In future he will only get better and better,” said Sinha, who coached Pant at his Sonnet Club in Delhi.

“He scored runs in the first against England [91 and 11] and that provided confidence to him. And that confidence has rubbed on to his wicketkeeping. A wicketkeeper has to concentrate on each ball, all the time. It’s a game between the bowler and the wicketkeeper. His concentration used to momentarily waver and that led to lapses. Now, his concentration is better,” he emphasised.

Pant has scored 1,256 runs at 44.85 in 18 Tests, including two centuries — and missing five others from handshaking distance – besides six half-centuries. He has taken 71 catches and effected five stumpings.