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The People's Republic of Rishabh Pant.

by Gaurav Sethi

 But skipper, you need to put yourself first for a change

It’s not easy. It’s easy. It’s not easy. It’s easy. It’s not easy... 

Is that what it’s like being Rishabh Pant, the captain of Delhi Capitals? To win one match, to lose the next one, to then win one, only to lose the next one. Again, and yet again. 

You know how the season started. It wasn’t easy. Most of your gun overseas players were not available. While those who were, didn’t quite turn up. 

Yet you started the season with a win against Mumbai Indians. But then you saw, that was the least you could’ve done as a team. If DC’s mega auction saw its strengths of the previous seasons dissipate one by one, MI lost it in style at the table. This seemed far more obvious on the ground. 

Yet there have been far more positives for DC, the biggest: Kuldeep Yadav. And your role in backing him has been downright exceptional. 

Moving beyond picking him for DC, looking for R Ashwin’s replacement, someone to partner Axar Patel, and regardless of whatever good that happened in the DC backrooms - the bonhomie between Kuldeep and you has been beautiful. The hugs, brotherhood, and love after each wicket, that has reignited the legend of Kulcha. 

Beyond the wickets and wins, whether Chahal’s or Kuldeep’s, is the Kulcha love. Indian cricket’s love for these spinning brothers was rolled out in style. Above that, was Chahal’s love and regard for Kuldeep and vice versa. When Kuldeep struck on the field, Chahal struck on Twitter. It was spontaneous. It was stunning. It was a brotherhood of man. 

No wonder Kuldeep thanked Chahal, calling him an elder brother, who backed him through his toughest hour. DC often won because of Kuldeep. When he had bite, DC chewed and spat out oppositions. 

For most of the tournament, Kuldeep’s wickets were second to only Chahal’s. As his skipper and wicketkeeper, you were masterly. You were all in. Backer. Friend. It was obvious, Kuldeep celebrated each wicket with you, as if it was as much yours as his. This was a great IPL story unfolding right there, and you were its enforcer. 

Later, whether you underbowled Kuldeep, whether the wickets dried up, all that paled. You had toasted the season with the emancipation of Kuldeep Yadav. When he said, he didn’t fear being hit, that he wanted Chahal to win the purple cap, that was the spirit of sport. Soaring so high it was breathtaking. That spirit-of-cricket award should just be called Kulcha. 

Beyond being Rishabh Pant, you are The People’s Republic of Rishabh Pant. 

The camaraderie between Ponting and you. It’s obvious to even the untrained eye, that this is more than coach-captain. Between you and Axar, Warner and you. You and Khaleel. Of course Kuldeep and you. Shaw and you. Shaw and Ponting. These are all extensions of DC’s love mesh. As a captain, this is your greatest achievement. 

As I will never tire of saying, how can you not love Rishabh Pant. And I hope you, Rishabh, never lose sight of that, of yourself, of your greatest strength, as a human being. 

One of your great gifts is the disarming honesty with which you speak. It may not always be palatable. It may even seem tactless.  But this is your core. What makes you-you, to your team, your coach, yourself. And the many roles that you must inhabit. 

Prithvi Shaw’s unavailability over the last few games, the repeated Covid-19 outbreaks in the DC camp, being locked up in rooms repeatedly, being unable to train, then turn up and behave like everything is hunky-dory, maybe possible for a less expressive man; not you.

The oft-used phrase for MSD and you is: ‘The master and the apprentice’. Yet when you reacted to a borderline waist-high full toss call, asking your boys to walk off; not too dissimilar to what MS had asked of his players; you were pulled up, fined your entire match fees. Not quite the case with MS, who went scot-free.


But what about your season? Where are you with the bat? Has everything off the field gotten to you, or have you performed in spite of it? 

After the defeat to CSK, you are not in the top 20 scorers, you are 21st. This is from 10 innings with one not-out. Your batting average and strike-rate may be higher than some above you, but what about your impact? A highest of 44, strike-rate of 152.71, averaging 31.22, a tally of 281 runs, acceptable if you are a finisher – but as a top-order bat? 

Your IPL numbers are not too unlike Sanju Samson’s. Like you, he’s a wicketkeeper captain. He’s batted one more innings, scored 321 runs, averaging 32.1, striking 155.82. He is top-order too. He has two 50s though, a highest of 55. Neither of you have kicked on though. 

Then there is MS Dhoni, sometimes player, sometimes captain. A floater in the batting order, though more a lower order finisher now: 10 innings, 5 not outs, 163 runs, averaging 32.60, striking at 139.31. And one 50 not out to boot. 

Wriddhiman Saha joined the IPL race a tad late but in 6 innings, opening, he has 209 runs, averaging 34.83, striking at 130. 

Two spaces below you is the toast of the IPL – Dinesh Karthik. No longer captain, new franchise, wicketkeeper, finisher. 274 runs, 8 not-outs from 12 innings, a highest of 66* (higher than both you and Samson’s top score), a batting average of 68.5 compounded by the not-outs, and a strike rate of 200.

The race for wicketkeeper-batters for the World Cup is on, it’s between Samson, Karthik and you, at best, two will make the squad. But before that, who knows, all there could get a shot in the pre-World Cup matches. 

In the previous two seasons, you had taken on damage control mode with Shreyas Iyer, batting deep with a conservative strike rate. This season started similarly, yet somewhere something clicked. You started to play with freedom. 

DC’s continuous search for openers has broken whatever momentum Warner-Shaw built together. You have a minimum of three matches left this season. With Shaw’s unavailability, Warner and you are DC’s only top-order bats with striking form.

It’s up to you, what impact you want to bring in the powerplay. Coming in after two early wickets, and going full throttle with a thin middle order, is not letting you break free for long.

The only way you can make a cameo into something substantial is by either opening or moving up to three. And breaking the game in the powerplay with Warner. Anything else is more out of hope and restraint.  

And that isn’t quite you. 

Go Rishabh, fly away on top. Add to that solitary IPL century from four years ago.

First published here

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