There was this short arm jab whip towards midwicket for four that confirmed only Rishabh Pant is capable of Rishabh Pant-like shots. But it can’t quite make up for the glaring nosedive in runs. His last six white-ball outings have yielded scores of 3, 6, 6, 11, 15 and 10 and even though they might not warrant immediate introspection, India may need to revisit their decision to back Pant for the long run if his wretched form doesn’t subside. This, and a few other middle-order puzzles, stare at India as they managed to leave New Zealand with a 1-0 loss even though the third ODI looked almost done and dusted in favour of the hosts when rain intervened and ultimately washed out the match.
Finn Allen scored a 54-ball 57 and Devon Conway was cautious in his unbeaten 38 off 51 balls, guiding New Zealand to 104 for 1, well ahead of the DLS target, when play was stopped due to rain. The match didn’t end with a result since the 20-over mark hadn’t been reached but India know they got out of jail after a shambolic batting performance that was only propped by a crafty fifty from Washington Sundar. Shreyas Iyer missed out on a fifty but the damage was once again inflicted around the 20-over mark when India couldn’t accelerate properly. Suryakumar Yadav was snapped up in slip and Deepak Hooda got a feather touch to the ball trying to hook but it was Pant’s dismissal that again stood out for its timing.
On 85/2 just after the 20-over mark, India were poised to build on a 30-run stand between Pant and Iyer. But Pant succumbed to the pressure of a few dot balls and miscued a pull off Daryl Mitchell to deep square-leg, trudging off scoring 10 off 16 balls. That Pant went ahead with the pull even though he was in no position to get on top of the bounce spoke volumes about the desperation in that shot. Pant is a batting maverick, capable of springing miracles and doom in equal measure. But since white-ball cricket is more time and result bound and hence need more consistency in terms of runs and contributions, some questions will be asked later if not now. Is Pant in the white-ball side because of his Test exploits? Is he there because he is left-handed? Has he been given a wide berth, now that Dinesh Karthik should be out of the T20 picture as well?
Pant himself isn’t worried though. Speaking before the start of the third ODI, he said comparing his white-ball and red-ball numbers when he is still 25 has no logic and should be brought up only when he is 30-32. He is also clear about where he wants to bat. “I’d want to open in T20s, No. 4-5 in ODIs and Tests I’m already batting at No. 5,” Pant said. When it was suggested to Pant that his Test numbers looked better when he came across more as a white-ball player, Pant said: “A record is just a number, my white-ball record is not bad either. Comparison is not a part of my life, I’m just 24-25 so you can compare once I’m 30-32. There’s no logic in comparing before that.”
Irrespective of how Pant may want to look at his career and numbers, there is this undeniable feeling that he is more of a natural fit in Tests even though his unorthodox batting makes it look more suited for shorter formats. Captaincy in IPL came earlier than thought and that may have prompted him to slow down but Pant hasn’t looked comfortable in shorter formats in recent times. He isn’t adept at farming the strike. And the more he slips into a rut, the more premeditated his get-out-of-jail shots tend to become. Pant denies it though. “There’s no real need to premeditate in one-day cricket but you have to in T20s,” he said on Wednesday. Few hours later, he got out to a pull that looked nothing but premeditated.
Brief scores: India 219 in 47.3 ovs (Washington 51, Iyer 49, Mitchell 3/25, Milne 3/57) vs New Zealand 104 for 1 in 18 ovs (Allen 57, Conway 38*) No result. New Zealand won the series 1-0.