Ponting, Ganguly ‘sure’ of Pant making it to World Cup squad

Ponting, Ganguly ‘sure’ of Pant making it to World Cup squad

A fortnight before the start of IPL 2024, BCCI’s medical team issued a statement clearing Rishabh Pant – survivor of a life-threatening car mishap in December 2022 – to resume wicketkeeper-batter role for his franchise, Delhi Capitals. There were apprehensions still, what with an extensive 14-month rehab from the physical and mental toll of a near-death experience.

It was understood that the Indian team management would exercise caution and not rush the return of Pant the keeper just yet, and advise DC the same. Therefore, going into the new IPL season, identifying their first-choice wicketkeeper for the upcoming T20 World Cup in the Caribbean & USA – starting in a week after the finale on May 26 – was high on agenda for national think-tank. Jitesh Sharma and Ishan Kishan, who had been backed in Pant’s absence albeit interchangeably, were the front-runners.

However, Capitals’ teamsheet had Pant marked as both captain and ‘keeper for the team in their tournament opener against Punjab Kings, ahead of the backups Shai Hope and Tristan Stubbs in the starting XI. Although the southpaw’s comeback knock was short-lived, he passed both the batting and keeping tests on his return to competitive cricket after 453 days.

Now, DC head coach Ricky Ponting and the team’s Director of Cricket Sourav Ganguly have no qualms claiming Pant, having picked up right from where he left, might just have leapfrogged his peers to press a very strong case for his international comeback at the World Cup in the Caribbean.

“I think so, yeah, I think yes,” Ganguly said of Pant’s chances to make it to India’s World Cup squad. “Only 15 can make it, but as in any sport it happens, the most equipped and the better ones play and I think Pant is definitely in that bracket, I’m sure he’ll be going to West Indies,” the former BCCI chief noted at a DC media day in New Delhi.

“He should bat in the middle order. Where exactly is very difficult to say in T20 cricket, because of [factors like] match-ups, right-left combinations depending on who bowls, the situation of the game. It’s probably not possible for anyone – rght from no. 3 to 7 – to say with surety what their fixed position is. It doesn’t work like that in T20 cricket especially,” Ganguly added on Pant’s ideal batting position.

Pant has donned the gloves in all eight of DC’s games in IPL 2024 thus far, seemingly without any hiccups, and been the team’s leading scorer in the tournament with 254 runs at an average of 36.29 and strike-rate a shade above 150. While the bare numbers might lean into the ‘it’s like he never left’ narrative, it’s been a steady return to the vintage Rishabh Pant mould for the destructive batter. From quashing doubts that were cast over just the possibility of a comeback to rigorous rehab, to a composed 18 off 13 on return and finally a typically Pant-like 55 off 25 against KKR three innings later. The middle-order batter has climbed into the top-15 of the season’s batting charts, and is the only one from DC to do so.

Ponting detailed how the 26-year-old has regained the confidence on his body while managing the increased workloads over the last month. “It’s pretty obvious that he’s seemingly gotten better and better every game,” said the Australian on Pant’s progress.

“I think he’s starting to get a bit more trust and belief in the body as well. Early on he had been a little bit apprehensive as to what he can do, especially with the wicketkeeping side of it. He had done a little bit of batting coming into the tournament, so he had pretty good trust in his leg with the bat in his hand, but I think what we’re seeing with his ability to play every game as a keeper so far, I think he’s batting is getting better and better by the game.

“I’ve been asked a lot already the last couple of weeks now that he’s back playing what cold be his World Cup chances. I think he’ll be in the squad for sure. He’s too good a player and can have too much of an impact on games for India to not pick him,” the former Australian captain said.

Axar Patel, who has played with Pant at both Dc and for India, shed light on Pant’s growth following the accident. “The Rishabh Pant I’m seeing after a year and a half is a lot more mature now, and has a lot more patience I think.

“He even talks very maturely now. He often talks about taking time in the middle and finishing games for the team, whereas earlier it used to be all about wanting to prove or show something. He’s still the same with the bat in hand, scoring the way he did earlier and backing his shots [on the field, but] he’s calmed down a lot, and doesn’t get angry as often over trivial things.”

Ponting noted that while Pant may have a fresh perspective on life now, but there isn’t an iota of doubt regarding his approach and attitude on the field.

“I don’t think he’s changed much as a cricketer, to be honest. The way he thinks about life now might be a little bit different than it was before. He’s been facing pretty terrifying times. You think about the accident in isolation, but then the thought of maybe never playing cricket again and not being able to do what he loves would have been a nightmare for anyone. You know, the extent of his injury – even when I first saw him and that was in the middle of last year’s IPL – I must admit I had concerns if he was going to play again as well. But he’s worked incredibly hard.

“This franchise has been very, very supportive of everything they can to give him the chance to get back to full fitness again and right now I mean he’s not very far off being at full fitness. I’m sure all you guys have watched him closely every game you know he’s running between the wickets well, he’s keeping really well, he’s lost nothing with his hand-eye coordination with the gloves, he’s moving well. More importantly, when I saw him just after the accident obviously there wasn’t much to be happy about for him, but now that he’s back playing and playing well, he’s got the smile [back] on his face again and that’s the most important thing.”

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