Ashwin chipped the ball straight to Ollie Pope. He was gone. India were 146/6. England felt a sudden surge of hope. Through discipline and belief, they rose from the shambles of yesterday and pierced through the heart of India’s batting line-up. Gill, Sharma, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane: they were are all gone. The tantalising prospect of drawing a series in India was still alive. England were back in this.
But there still remained soldier standing: that pesky Rishabh Pant. Whether it be his comical chirping or his acrobatic keeping, Pant is constant pest for England. But for now, it was his batting they were most worried about: Pant was on 30 of 52. A lively tempo for any batsman. But not for Rishabh Pant. That man is something else. When Pant bats, he turns Test cricket into a fireworks display. He takes risks that others can’t even dream of. No-one changes a game quite like Pant. Re-watch the Gabbatoir of 2021 if you need proof. But for now, he’s a ticking bomb waiting to unleash utter carnage. England needed to detonate the bomb before it became too late. They knew what the master of mayhem could do.
But as Ashwin departed the crease, another Tamilian entered: Washington Sundar. 6′ 1” in height, he was imposing in stature. But it was Sundar’s calmness that caught my eye; he strode to the middle with infectious confidence. Not arrogance, an icy aura of authority. He was here to get the job done. From the moment he faced his first ball, England piled pressure on him. If they got him, it was their chance to exploit the tailenders.
But Sundar, unfazed, solidly defied the English with immovable defence until tea. His days of opening for Tamil Nadu in age group cricket had come to fruition. But the assuredness that Sundar emanated was unheard of for a 21 year old. But then again, this was no ordinary 21 year old. This was the Washington Sundar who, alongside Pant, was crucial in the victory of the 2021 Gabba test and sealed India’s greatest ever series comeback. All this on his debut. This was nothing compared to the pressure he endured that day.
Rishabh Pant had reached his 50. It took him a toil of 82 balls. England were anxious; the havoc was due to be unleashed anytime soon. In just a couple of lusty blows, their hopes would be crushed. Suddenly, the bomb was no longer ticking; it had exploded. The chaos had begun.
Fully describing an exploded Rishabh Pant is an impossible task. That’s partly because half the shots he plays haven’t even been invented yet. Even today, he executed two shots that could not be further from the MCC coaching manual: against a good length ball with a smidgeon of width, Pant played a front foot cut-pull-sweep-tennis forehand shot of sorts. It was an extraordinary sight. And what’s more, he reverse scooped the new ball over the slips. Guess who was bowling: James Anderson. James “613 test wickets” Anderson. Who would have the disrespectful swagger to do such a thing? Well, Rishabh Pant does.
Even his mishits went zooming to the boundary boards. Everytime he tried something, he succeeded. You may call it chancy but I call it “luck favouring the brave”. But the fun didn’t stop there: Pant, being the showman he is, hoiked the ball high and handsome for six to bring up his century. But to the fans’ s disappointment, he was dismissed 1 run later but the damage was already done. England knew it was coming and yet they couldn’t stop it. That is the beauty of Rishabh Pant.
While Pant wreaked havoc, Washington Sundar held firm. He too indulged in the occasional glory stroke but ultimately, he played responsibly and with restraint. Sundar read the situation with maturity beyond his years and that is what made his knock just as impressive as Pant’s. He’s still going now at 60 not out. Let’s see whether he can make his first test century because he deserves it.
The way Washington Sundar and Rishabh Pant played was contrasting from one another: Chalk and cheese. Yin and Yang. Fire and Ice. But one quality binds these men together: be fearless. The ground, the opponent, the pitch, the pressure doesn’t matter. Just back your instinct and play your game. Be fearless.