Revealing the drama of the final hour of the last Test win, Brisbane hero Pant told TOI on Saturday that he had no doubt that India’s 328-run target was chaseable. Pant accordingly devised a plan with debutant Washington Sundar.
Excerpts from the interview…
How much did the Brisbane knock mean to you?
When I got out in the 2019 World Cup semifinal, it was a very disheartening moment for me. It was a big opportunity for me to do something special for India. I didn’t know when such a big moment would come again. I have always dreamt of winning matches from tough situations and doing something which is unbelievable. I never thought of scoring my own runs. A match-winning effort can be a knock of 20 runs or even a special catch.
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You dazzled in the Sydney Test too, scoring 97 with an injured elbow when India were chasing over 300 runs on the final day…
Even when I got out for 97 on the last day in Sydney, I thought I could have won the match had I batted longer. It didn’t matter that I had to take two injections and sedatives before batting. I was in a zone and didn’t want to throw away opportunities. So I ensured I was there at the end in Brisbane.
So a draw is never an option…
Losing is not an option, but winning is always the better option. The mindset was that I had to win the series for my team, then this tour would be truly memorable. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning matches for India. Nothing matches the high it gives you.
How did you and Washington Sundar plan the chase in the final hour?
I told Washi to play the anchor and I will go big. But he said he wanted to hit big. Then both of us calmed down and decided that one has to anchor and other would go for the shots! Washi played that role.
Since MS Dhoni retired, you have been expected to play the finisher’s role…
Those who have seen me since my childhood would know that I have always thought of winning matches for my team and not think of just scoring my own runs. I think that is the job of every player. You can’t assign a particular name to a player’s responsibility and role. Yes, I have worked hard on my shot selection. Even in Brisbane, I stopped myself from being tempted to play the big hits even as I was chasing the target. I kept telling myself to wait for the right ball to hit big.
It’s been a rough two years for you since the 2019 World Cup in England…
I knew I could not show my family and close ones that I was getting worried. Even I sensed they were a bit disturbed but we would never talk about it. It was a strange time. I don’t know exactly how they must have reacted when I hit the winning runs, but I can see them happy now. There’s nothing like making my mother, my coaches Tarak Sinha sir and Devendra Sharma sir happy.
Did the lockdown help?
I believe the lockdown was a blessing for me mentally. I was starting to feel the pressure before that. There was self-doubt creeping in. The lockdown gave me the chance to spend time with my family and friends. It helped me to break away from the rigours and switch off. I started afresh after the lockdown.
Have you made any changes to your mental or technical approach in the last two years?
I have decided to stay happy. I am still the same fun-loving Rishabh Pant who played the U-19 World Cup. But I can feel I have gained maturity. I did make some technical changes in my game. Those minor changes happen to every cricketer. I have spoken a lot to Tarak sir. Ricky Ponting has helped me a lot about a lot of things during the IPL. My team members have been very kind. We believed in bonding sessions and helping each other out. Even the ones who were new in the team gelled really well. I am open to criticism. But I can’t be playing just to justify someone else’s thoughts.
What is the toughest thing to do for a cricketer?
Toughest thing is trying to not overthink. You know you should not be thinking too much but you become conscious about it. Even when things go your way, it’s nice to look back, but you can’t get caught up in that. I know the last two Tests have been special but those two knocks are just the beginning of a long innings for me. I need to be consistently winning matches for India.
What has this phase taught you?
You need to stay positive and your hard work will pay off sooner or later. It’s important to appreciate others around you and keep them motivated. That’s why I keep talking and encouraging everyone in the field. Even while batting, you need to keep motivating your partner. That’s something I have learnt from Pujji bhaiya (Cheteshwar Pujara). He keeps walking up to his partner and says ‘well defended/left/negotiated or a great shot’ after almost every ball. I tried to do the same with Washi too.
There’s been talk that you are seen as a specialist for overseas Tests. How are you preparing for the home series against England?
I can’t afford to think about all that. I know I am improving and putting a lot of work into all aspects of my cricket. I am just hungry to cash in on whatever opportunity I get. Even if you don’t get much time to work on your skills in between series, you try to be there mentally and be in a good space, keep working on your fitness.