FEATURE: Ishan Kishan and Rishabh Pant formally met for the first time in 2013 in an Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy game, Now India Under-19 teammates and much more.
Even before Rishabh Pant completes speaking, he semi-hugs Ishan Kishan to show the brotherly love they share. When we ask Kishan about Pant, he smiles at his mate before replying: “He has got his own style. His strength is that when he wants to hit, he can hit.”
Kishan and Pant formally met for the first time in 2013 in an Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy game between Jharkhand and Delhi. Not that they remember much of it, but they opened the batting for their respective teams before Jharkhand won on the basis of the first-innings lead.
Had they not been very driven in their pursuit for a career in cricket, it is unlikely that the two would have met then. Kishan had made his debut for Jharkhand Under-16 just a year before after shifting from Patna, as Bihar hasn’t had a cricket team since Jharkhand came into existence. Pant, on the other hand, was born in Roorkee, a city in present-day Uttarakhand, and moved wherever Tarak Sinha, the popular Sonnet Club coach in Delhi, took him.
Knowing how difficult it is to play for Delhi at the age-group level, Sinha, when he was the Rajasthan Cricket Association Academy director, gave Pant his Under-16 debut from Rajasthan in the 2010-11 Vijay Merchant Trophy. But, once Sinha left Rajasthan after the senior team won the Ranji Trophy for the second consecutive season, Pant failed to get a break the subsequent season.
Pant returned to Delhi in 2013-14 and, in his fourth match, met Kishan. Look at it from a geographical context: They were born in neighbouring states within a year of each other, but the formation of Jharkhand and Uttarakhand in 2000 forced them to take different routes before starting to pursue their aspirations of representing the national team and coming together as, in a way, brothers.
Now India Under-19 teammates, the similarities in temperament they share are not a surprise considering the common cultural background. But it’s the tangible parallels that suggest fate had a role to play in bringing the two mirror images face to face.
Apart from being left-handed openers, both of them are wicketkeepers and have already played first-class cricket. The junior national selectors and Rahul Dravid, their coach, also view them as future leaders. While Kishan is India’s captain at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, Pant is his deputy.
Not to mention their excellent fielding skills. If the run out that Kishan effected with an underarm throw in the win against Ireland Under-19 was slick, then Pant’s full-stretch dive to his right to pluck out a catch behind the stumps in the 120-run win against New Zealand Under-19 on Saturday (January 30) was sensational.
Pant had attempted a similar acrobatic effort in the Ireland game, but could manage to only deflect the ball, which an alert Ricky Bhui held on to at first slip.
When we remind him of that ‘missed chance’, his witty rebuttal gives you a glimpse of a typical North Indian boy. “Aap ne thik se dekha nahin. Aap catch chootne ke baare mein bol rahein hain, lekin woh mere se kitna door tha, uske baare mein to nahi bol rahein hain. (You did not see it properly. You are talking about me missing the catch, but you are not talking about how far it was from me).”
Back to the similarities then. While Pant swears by Adam Gilchrist’s style of play and follows AB de Villiers closely, Kishan admires David Warner.
Closer home, both of them have drawn from the experiences of their respective state heroes. It is now well known how MS Dhoni took Kishan under his wings while playing for Jharkhand in the 2014-15 Vijay Hazare Trophy. In the same tournament, Pant got a chance to understand about opening the batting from Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan.
“I observed silently standing at the boundary line what Dhoni bhai was doing and why. What field he was setting for which bowler,” shares Kishan with a tone of reverence. “When a wicket used to fall he used to tell me that ‘I placed this field because of Varun’s (Aaron) pace’. He would tell me what kind of field I could set if I had a pace bowler in the team.
“Sometimes, even when you have set an attacking field, the opposition keeps scoring,” goes on Kishan, explaining how he has implemented the lessons in the World Cup. “So I recalled how Dhoni bhai used to defend even when he was attacking. So that’s what I did. I kept slips and two batsmen got out in that region.”
“They all said take your time when you play. There is no hurry. Ever since the two new-ball rule, it’s bit difficult for the openers,” chips in Pant with the wisdom he has gathered from the Delhi dressing room. “You have to see the ball’s (shine) off because it seams from both ends. So, Shikhar bhaiyya told me if you have made 40-45 runs in the Power Play, its good.”
With such camaraderie between the captain and his vice-captain, India’s success at the World Cup so far is not unexpected. But, if there is one area that the two would like to put their bond to good use, then it is to give India a great foundation through a big opening partnership.
Pant was one of the four wickets to fall within 55 runs in the first game, but made up with a very attractive 57 against New Zealand, which included a partnership of 89 with Sarfaraz Khan after India were 19 for 2. He was particularly strong with his back-foot play, and came down the track twice to hit sixes. Kishan, however, is yet to get going, aggregating just four runs, scored off 16 balls, across two games. More than the lack of runs, its his dismissals off loose shots that has been concerning, but he is not perturbed.
“Every batsman has to go through this phase. Today one guy is doing well, tomorrow someone else will,” he philosophies. “What we are focussing on is to do our homework well. We don’t want to panic. It often happens in pressure situations that players panic. So, we have to play calmly.”
Among the good things Kishan has picked up from Dhoni is to treat batting and captaincy as separate entities. On the field, Kishan has been quite good, effecting right bowling changes and setting appropriate fields for different kind of bowlers.
“If you are the captain and you begin to feel low, it will affect the whole atmosphere in the team. If the captain is a silent spectator, a bowler might get carried away sometime and will keep bowling bouncers. It will lead in the batman getting set,” says Kishan even as he reveals that his game anticipation skills impressed Dravid and the selectors before they appointed him as the skipper. “You need to keep your shoulders up so that your team-mates’ intensity remains.”
When we ask him if captaincy is more ceremonial at the junior level, with the coach doing most of the strategising job, Kishan stands up for his tribe. “The coach can only tell you things and plan when you are outside,” he stresses. “I can tell as batsman, because from my fielding position – for example, I am standing at covers – I know and I can see the batsman’s grip, how he is looking around at the field and I try to anticipate what he might be thinking. That time I can direct my bowlers.”
Kishan’s command over things in the middle can only be a good thing for India. For now, it would be even better if the ‘brothers’ start delivering together at the top of the order before the knockouts.
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James was the full-time Media Manager at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2007 and 2010.
James is a published author and a writer/video contributor to many cricket publications.
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