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On the cemented terrace of his Roorkie home in Uttarakhand, Rajinder Pant would tie a pillow to the chest of his tiny son Rishabh and bowl with a cork ball from close distance, to take the fear of facing fast bowlers out of his mind.
That, coupled with the Maltova-mixed milk, gave strength to Rishabh’s muscles — a testimony of which was delivered in Brisbane as he hammered an unbeaten 89 to guide India to a match and series triumph.
That novel method of practice was a roaring success as Pant, who would take two tiffin boxes to school to save time for cricket practice after school hours, became fearless.
And that is reflected in his shots today.
Anyone who watched him accelerate during his 138-ball knock in the fourth and final Test against Australia at the Gabba would vouch that Pant had learnt his lessons well in the tiny Uttarakhand town.
Unfortunately for Pant, his father is no more to watch his talented 23-year-old son play the “most important” innings of his fledgling Test career. But Pant’s mind would surely have gone back to those early coaching classes on the terrace and when he would carry two tiffin boxes to school.
“The ball came off faster on the cemented rooftop of our home,” Rajinder Pant had said in 2019. “There was no turf pitch in the city at the time. I would tie a pillow to his chest so that my little boy wouldn’t get hurt while facing faster deliveries. But he did get hurt; sustained fracture. It was also meant to take the fear [of facing fast bowling] out of him.”
That was extra coaching, apart from the coaching he received in school.
Soon, looking at the talent their son possessed, Rajinder and his wife Saroj took the big decision of sending Rishabh to Dronacharya Awardee coach Tarak Sinha in Delhi.
Commuting was a challenge. Mother and son would take the 3am bus from Roorkee to Delhi for an arduous five-hour journey, so that he could attend the Sinha-run Sonnet Club’s net practice sessions on Saturdays and Sundays at Sri Venkateswara College in south Delhi.
They would often stay at a Gurudwara near the college on weekends so that he could practice on Sundays, before a grown up Rishabh rented accommodation in Delhi.
When Pant started living in Delhi, Sinha took charge and doubled up as his local guardian following permission from his parents.
On Tuesday, after India’s win and having himself won the Man of the Match award, Pant called Sinha on WhatsApp. Obviously, the coach was thrilled to hear from his ward.
Pant finished with the highest aggregate for India in the Test series with 274 runs in three matches, and the third overall, behind Aussies Marnus Labuschagne (426 runs in four matches) and Steve Smith (313 in four matches).
“Rishabh played responsibly and sensibly,” Sinha told IANS. “His off-side play has also improved, and it was visible today. He started slowly and gradually accelerated his innings, and especially after Australia took the second new ball he hammered several boundaries. Also, he now has a good temperament. I have a feeling that the Australians fear him.”
Significantly, Pant, who was promoted to No.5 (in the first innings he batted at No.6), remained unbeaten after his three-hour vigil at the crease while facing 138 balls.
Sinha disclosed, “This was in his mind for a long a time – to remain unbeaten and take the team to victory – after some people had criticised him for not finishing off matches. He wanted to be a finisher.”
“I also pointed it out to him that he had missed a few centuries by getting out in the nineties.”
Pant has got out three times in the nineties – twice against West Indies in 2018 and in the third Test against Australia in Sydney this month.
On Tuesday, however, he didn’t get the opportunity to reach his century as India won and he remained unbeaten on 89. However, the knock may have cemented his place in the Test XI – and opened a window of opportunity for inclusion in the Indian ODI and T20 teams.