Rahul Dravid, at most times, is a very measured man. In his playing days, unless something dramatic happened it was difficult to get an emotional reaction out of him.
In his short stint as head coach of the Indian men’s team, he has shown similar qualities- willing to speak just enough so as to not reveal too much, trying to keep his emotions in check almost always.
And so for a phlegmatic man like him to show an outpour of emotion, something truly extraordinary must have happened and it indeed was the case on the opening day of the fifth Test between India and England at Birmingham.
11 days ago, at a press conference after the final T20 against South Africa a question was raised on Rishabh Pant’s lack of runs in the series and whether it was something India had to be worried about in white-ball cricket.
On Friday, with the side in doldrums at 64–3, Pant walked out to bat with England’s bowlers nagging away with the red ball. Soon he saw Virat Kohli fall early and then after a brief cameo, witnessed Shreyas Iyer return to the pavilion, caught acrobatically by Sam Billings down the leg side.
At 98 for 5, Pant had a lot to do with Ravindra Jadeja. There wasn’t a lot going in his favor-the sun was playing hide and seek, Ben Stokes opted to use James Anderson and Stuart Broad in long spells and India’s scoring rate had come down to a trickle.
Yet there was one thing in Pant’s favor and that was the pitch. Out of the five wickets that fell for India, three, you could say, were not the result of the ball doing something off the deck. Gill’s was a waft outside off-stump that was avoidable, Kohli’s was a moment of indecision, while Iyer fell prey to the short ball trap from England.
The other two-Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari-were to deliveries that may have removed better players than them, both in terms of form and pedigree.
So, with not a lot of devils on the pitch, Pant set about rescuing India. What followed in the next few hours was only seen to be believed. Anderson, in the 20th year of his international career, was smashed for four by a charging Pant early on in the innings. Broad, famous for coming round the wicket and removing the best southpaws in the business, was nonchalantly driven past cover and past mid-on for boundaries. The counter-attack had begun and suddenly, in a matter of hours, the pendulum had started to turn.
But the pendulum did well and truly turn India’s way when Pant went after Jack Leach. For nostalgic Indian fans who grew up on a diet of ODIs in the 90s, only one name would come to mind when they thought of left-arm spin being treated with disdain and that is Sourav Ganguly, who at his prime seemed to not care one bit about what was coming his way when a left-arm spinner was in operation and looked to deposit them as far back as possible in the stands.
Sitting and watching from the stands, even Ganguly may have had to catch his falling jaw, watching Pant absolutely annihilate Leach on Friday. Using his feet more than once, Pant seemed hell-bent on just sending the ball to the fence and did so, with remarkable audacity and consistency.
No Pant innings is complete without the one-handed six and that, too, came off Leach, who went for 71 runs in his nine overs. Had no one reminded you, you would not have believed that this was the same bowler who had picked up a ten-wicket haul against New Zealand, just less than a week ago, and helped England whitewash the Kiwis.
Pant’s pyrotechnics, however, came to an end towards the fag end of the opening day as he tried to swing again off Joe Root’s bowling only to be caught by Zak Crawley at the lone slip.
In 111 balls, Pant had smashed 146 runs. 104 of those runs had come in fours and sixes. His hundred came off 89 balls, but staggeringly, 50 of those balls were dots. He and Jadeja had put on 222 runs for the sixth wicket. The 146 is now Pant’s second highest Test score and if India win, could go down as one of the most significant knocks of his career.
As he entered the dressing room, a much more mellowed Dravid patted him on the back. 11 years ago, Dravid had made the same score at The Oval and carried his bat. India would go on to lose that match by an innings and lose the series 4–0 in one of the most forgettable tours ever.
He would hope the 146 from Pant seals India the series and the knock becomes etched in Indian memories forever.