Raw and under construction, Rishabh Pant earned his maiden ODI call-up for the series against West Indies on Thursday. He has been selected as a batsman and a cover for the legendary Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who even at 37, is thunder and lightning personified behind the stumps.
The 21-year-old stumper has made an impact with his batting — the 114 and 92 against England (at The Oval) and West Indies (in Rajkot) established his acumen and hunger — but the gloves have been loose.
He conceded 76 byes in six innings in the Test series against England. Many former stumpers had raised eyebrows. Nayan Mongia questioned his basics.
But India A and U-19 fielding coach Abhay Sharma, who been monitoring Pant since his teenage, saw it from a different perspective. “You can see his growth in wicketkeeping. He has been with us (the colts’ coaching staff) for a long time. It has been close to three years. Initially, he was a little heavy on his feet. We had to work on that, and it was a start,” said Sharma, in an exclusive chat.
To him, Pant had improved. And keeping the future in mind — with Dhoni nearing his 40s — he perhaps won’t be a bad investment for the specialist coaches.
“He is a hard-working kid. Now, we are trying to work on his head position,” added Sharma, who has been helping Pant on and off since the start of the year. “I attended the Vijay Hazare Trophy games he played for Delhi to analyse his keeping. We have been in constant touch.”
The head position adjustment could iron out the flaws. “That varies from keeper to keeper. In his case, we are trying to draw him a little bit forward which could help him in keeping close to the stumps.
“When he is standing up to a slower bowler, he will be close to the wickets where he can get stumping chances,” explained Sharma, who redefined slip-catching exercises using pseudo leather balls.
Ahead of the Tests against the West Indies, Sharma gave him a crucial tip to eliminate blind spots. “We had a word about the Windies batsmen and their batting styles. These players have got a backlift which comes from outside, right of the gully. It can create blind spots for a keeper; blind spots behind the legs also,” he said.
Pant perhaps has written it down.
The Roorkee stumper may have had a tough start to his international career but the conditions were threatening as well. If a James Anderson delivery can swerve to the extent of fracturing England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow’s finger, Pant, at least, returned unscathed.
He would need time, and chances, to stand out.