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Controlled aggression: Rishabh Pant makes a statement


It is time to say it out loud: Rishabh Pant is a once in a generation cricketer.

With the deciding Test match at Cape Town first hanging in the balance and then shifting firmly in South Africa’s favour after yet another top-order collapse, there was pressure.

With the series on the line and a shot at history receding, the stakes were as high as they possibly could be.

Despite his heroics in Australia and England, Pant has never been put in a similar position in his life before.

His response was truly heroic. The key to Pant’s innings was how he perceived himself. Pant looked at himself as an integral part of India’s batting unit, not someone who had the X-factor or a bonus hitter at the end of a distinguished batting line-up.

After giving Kagiso Rabada the charge and throwing his wicket away, Pant was told in no uncertain terms by his team that he had made a mistake. And that it was not okay to walk out to the middle with the attitude of “that’s the way I bat, it comes off some times, it doesn’t at others,” as his fans often say.

But, while the tough love was being dished out, there would also have been an empathetic arm around the shoulder, telling Pant that the reason so much was being asked of him was because he was capable of more and because he was worth it.

On the day, Pant batted with greater control than anyone who came before him. This is saying something, given that Virat Kohli had all but given up trying to attack, and had sealed up one end.

Kohli had batted more than three hours for his 143-ball 29, falling to the first slightly adventurous shot he played.

But, while Pant was ultra-careful, he was not defensive. Far from that. He brought up his half-century off only 58 balls, with 22 of those runs coming in boundaries. What this showed was that he was able to keep the runs coming at a clip that no batsman in either team had achieved in these conditions all Test match, without taking unnecessary risks.

This was the very definition of controlled aggression, a term often used in cricket, but rarely understood well.

South Africa thought they might buy Pant’s wicket, giving Keshav Maharaj’s left-arm spin a bit of a run. But, on the day, there was nothing for sale. Pant did go down on one knee and whip Maharaj for six over the vast swathes of emptiness over midwicket and come down the pitch next ball to drill the ball so far into the stands it took several minutes to fetch the cherry.

There was a serious risk that Pant would not get to three figures, as he began to run out of partners. Three lower-order batsmen had tried to push things when they should have been protecting the partnership and playing for Pant. But, even in these circumstances, Pant did not go searching for the milestone.

Instead, he farmed the strike and tried to push the team total as far as possible. When he did get to his century, Pant had made an even 100 of India’s second-innings score of 198.

Pant had the highest scores for an Indian wicketkeeper in Australia (159*), England (114) and South Africa. More importantly, he had given his team a fighting chance.

By the time the day was done, though, South Africa were well on their way. Tempers frayed as India thought a close lbw shout went against them. A whole day of Pant calmness had evaporated in the Newlands sun.

BRIEF SCORES

India 223 & 198 (Pant 100*, Kohli 29; Jansen 4/36, Ngidi 3/21, Rabada 3/53) lead South Africa 210 & 101/2 (Petersen 48*, Elgar 30; Shami /22, Bumrah 1/29)



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