Time to reshape Rishabh Pant's T20 batting approach

Time to reshape Rishabh Pant’s T20 batting approach

There’s a reason Indian team management aren’t dropping Rishabh Pant as a T20 player despite the 25-year-old taking his time to make an impact. His ODI numbers are proof that he faces different challenges over time. According to data from CricViz, from 2018 to 2020, his average ODI to pace was 32.3 (strike rate of 105.7). It is 19.3 and 99.1 against spin.

He is, however, a different player since 2021. His average against pace is 42.8 (SR 112.2) Against spin, he goes up to 104.5 (SR 114.8). In 2018-20, his 16-game average was 26.7 (SR 103.6). From 2021 to 2022, out of the 11 games he has played, the average is 51.8 (SR 113.4).

His last ODI innings were a 113-ball 125* at Old Trafford which led India’s successful pursuit 260 to 72/4, after losing wickets to Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav.

For such a talented move maker, T20 should be a natural choice. But surprisingly, unlike the ODI surge since 2021, it’s gone the other way in the T20s. After 2016-19, his T20 numbers slipped across all metrics, especially against spin. His strike rate against out-spin fell to 106.7 and his strike rate against leg-spin fell to 122.1. From 2016 to 2019, the corresponding figures were 143.4 and 159.9.

Lately, Pant has also struggled against left arm pacers, with his strike rate dropping to 122.8 after 2020. Before that, it was 165.2.

He lost his place in the starting XI to Dinesh Karthik in the T20 World Cup. As India look to rebuild for the next edition after a disappointing run in Australia, Pant has competition for the keeper-beater role – Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan. Still, he remains the top pick at the moment because everyone knows the havoc he can wreak once he cracks the T20 batting code. He was sensational in Tests with classic shots in Sydney (97), Brisbane (89*), Ahmedabad (101), Cape Town (100) and Birmingham (146) in 2021-22.

The team management should promote Pant in order, believes former Indian flyhalf Wasim Jaffer. “The best place for him is at the top of the order,” said Jaffer, a Punjab Kings batting coach with a long IPL experience.

“He should open up as and when there’s an opportunity. The pants we see in Tests and ODIs, the shots he’s played, we haven’t seen that consistency because he hits at No. 5. That means when he comes hitting the pitch. It’s not easy in the T20s that you come in and start hitting the limits and the sixes.

“He is definitely a game winner. If he gets into the power play, then we can get the most out of him in the T20s. If he takes the start, it doesn’t matter if the peloton retreats. This way we can use it. Being left-handed means that the team has a right-left combination. If he gives you a good start, he’s such an attacking player that after six overs he can be more dangerous. If the opponent has a leg spinner or a left arm spinner, being left-handed, they can upset their plan.


“People mature playing, some mature late. Surya hits so well now at 32 that he also made the same mistakes earlier. But he is mature now,” says Lalchand Rajput, who was manager of the 2007 T20 World Cup winning side and coach of Mumbai Indians.

“Pant is only 25, give him a year. That’s why he should have played all the matches of the World Cup, he would have matured for the next one. If you get him in and out, the confidence won’t be there and he starts doubting his game. Then he will lose his natural game. This is how Virender Sehwag played. We used to tell him “you are going to express yourself”. Out of 10 games, if you win four or five games, I’m happy. No one will give you a 100% result,” Rajput said.

Pant had embraced the T20 format very well in IPL – in 2018 he got 684 runs at an S/R of 173.60. But it’s obvious the bowlers have come up with a game plan against him. In T20, the batter who arrives later in the innings is under pressure to hit. Giving him nothing in his range is the formula. They focus on bowling away and we often see him running out of time to get caught.

“He favors the leg side. His playing style is slightly unusual – square leg, square behind are his favorite areas. We have also seen this with Surya, but Yadav also hits in front of the wickets. I think Pant needs to develop that the shooting teams (or) will target him playing there won’t give him rhythm, and he will play outside towards him. I think he will have to improve his game in that area, in T20 as well as in one-day cricket because in ODIs he beats at 4 and 5, so that situation will come,” Jaffer said.

Rajput, now technical director of Zimbabwe Cricket, says: “The root cause is that his leg always goes straight. Anything wider, he has to reach the ball. Once his foot moves towards the line of the ball, it will become easier to reach the ball and execute shots where he wants. When he plays away from the ball, he has no power, he gets the timing wrong and he skips the ball.

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