There are short straws in life and writing a Sensible Rishabh Pant Innings is one of those short straws. I am not ungrateful. A reasonable Rishabh pant inning is still worth more than, say, all of Sir Alastair Cook’s dullest innings (the laptop won’t let me type “entertaining”). A Sensible Rishabh Pant innings is still more fun than a career innings of… (no, I’m not going to name Dom Sibley, Azhar Ali, Cheteshwar Pujara, Dean Elgar, Kraigg Brathwaite, or Geoffrey Boycott here).
In the end he had 146 balls from 111, the second fastest 100 by an Indian in England, neither of which are necessarily facts from sensible innings. And yes, he started the innings by charging for the first ball, which he faced from James Anderson. He shortened it to a single, probably the least sane but most entertaining single you’ll see in reviews this year. And his first limit was another attack on Anderson and a drive right past him. For what excuse – on the subcontinent we are taught from an early age to show the utmost respect to the elders, and Pant has failed us there.
Oh he also tried to sweep Ben Stokes a ball but missed. Most hitters may show some remorse and double down when defending the next ball. Pant tried to reach a ball so far that he would not have reached it if he had used Mohammad Irfan as a bat. He finished it off with that one shot, that odd mix of chop, dab and cut that slipped through the tip looking like no shot that had ever been played before. Joe Root talked about rewriting the coaching manual after shooting some sixes backwards a few weeks ago: Now, every time he comes out to bat, Pant punches out a new manual.
Jack Leach came on, which given his record against Pant prior to this Test – 88 runs on 59 balls – was a sign that England too were finding those innings a bit too sensible. Four, four, six in a row; a total of 59 runs of 32 balls; interspersed with an attack and a punch that left Pant flat on his back; also in between cost a six with one hand off the handle in an over that cost 22. By then England had blinked and knocked out a man on a long-on and he was still hitting sixes over them. But, I mean, give a four-year-old a can of soda at 8 p.m. on a weekday and see how sensibly she does it?
But as he got to fifty with that modest clip off his thighs, it looked like he might bring a single, then two because it was well timed, but then the fielder spread at the deep square leg boundary to stop and can’t because it’s timed well, that felt fitting too. It was a sensible, no-nonsense, no-joke shot. Even at almost a run-a-ball this fifty was like here, grab this Les Paul guitar, this Marshall amp and just turn the volume up to one when you’re jamming, okay?
I swear those were really sensible pants. Picking your battles, picking your areas, picking your shots (okay, not always), running eagerly, not to mention the easy runs, all those things to switch off from. Between deliveries he would walk away with the club slung over his left shoulder, and to some people he might have carried it like an axe, but it really made more sense to think of it as a boombox. With a low volume.
It took him four shots on goal to go from 92 to 100 while he’s basically the only batter in world cricket who could one day hit an eight. And when he hit the century, he dove back for the second like he was Steve Waugh, struggling like the run was the most important thing in the world and not at all like a batsman who was out five times in the ’90s. It was percent cricket.
Even after the tea, when the numbers tell us that this was not a proper rishabh pant inning, but a pure rishabh pant inning (he was 53 of 52 at tee and then scored 93 of 59), Pant has no pant -made things. He dismantled Matthew Potts in what turned out to be very well mannered: a stand-and-admire cover drive, two smart back cuts, a couple of well-mannered pulls, a whip through the midwicket. No risks taken, nothing unreasonable on those shots, and yet six limits in 17 balls and England’s best bowler that summer had been dismissed.
When Joe Root threw him a bouncer and he pulled it for four, it was Root who wasn’t sensible. Pant played the most sensible shot he could. Which was about at the point, just before he got out, that I realized this wasn’t the shortest at all. Pant’s sensible just isn’t sensible.
Osman Samiuddin is Senior Editor at ESPNcricinfo