By Ashis Ray (IANS) What a transformation! Where was this discipline for six innings? Rishabh Pant came out to bat before lunch on the fourth day, with India on 296 for five in the second innings, still needing around 80 runs to feel secure about not losing the test match.
India then lost captain Virat Kohli, who had batted sumptuously, when the total was 312, which put the onus even more on Pant. Given the bizarre way he had batted in the series, the test match was on the line.
When will he charge down the pitch T20 fashion? When will he chase a ball outside the off-stump technique-less? It was a moment of tension. Pant, though, did neither. He defended resolutely, took no risks, hit the bad ball, otherwise remained content with safe singles. It was an amazing metamorphosis of temperament.
Admittedly, it was dry and sunny, the temperature 24 degrees, the second new ball more than 20 overs old – although in England, the Duke product, with the pronounced contrast between the leathers on the two sides of the seam at this stage, can swing disconcertingly. Consequently, it is comparatively easier for batting. He negotiated 106 balls for a responsible, fit-for-situation 50, until he drove at off-spinner Moeen Ali to be caught and bowled. He had redeemed himself.
Pant’s patience provided a platform for a 100-run partnership for the 7th wicket with Shardul Thakur. The latter was more aggressive. He hit seven fours and a six to long-off for a 72-ball 60 before Joe Root, also bowling off-spin, had him caught at slip off a straighter delivery.
Thakur emphasised that his first innings half-century was not a flash in the pan. He established he is endowed with batting prowess. However, he will do well to get over the ball a bit more when driving off the front foot. This will ensure he doesn’t execute the shot uppishly. He is a noticeably powerful striker of the ball.
368 to win in the fourth innings is a stiff target. 362 for nine – against Australia at Headingley in 2019 – is the highest England have ever scored to win a test. At The Oval their best all-time effort is 263 for nine versus the Aussies in 1902. India, though, powered by 221 from Sunil Gavaskar nearly chased down 438 in 1979. The match ended in a draw.
(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book ‘Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge’)