BY NIHARIKA RAINA
New Delhi– When the schedule of the 2023 Border-Gavaskar Trophy was unveiled in early December last year, Luvpreet Singh — a cricket fan — had his eyes set on seeing a rare phenomenon – of watching Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant play a home Test at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi from February 17.
“There was a great feeling inside that I would get to see Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant play in a Test match and even batting together in the stadium. It would have been a very rare sight to witness as it’s not every time you get a Test match in Delhi, and more so, India playing against Australia. But because of something, it didn’t happen,” Luvpreet told IANS.
The sadness in Luvpreet’s voice echoes the emotion felt by him and many fans when they witnessed the second Test. Kohli featured in the match which was won by India within three days, but Rishabh wasn’t there.
The dashing and fun-loving left-handed wicketkeeper-batter, also the only Indian to be included in the ICC Men’s Test team for 2022, miraculously survived a serious car accident with multiple injuries on December 30 while on his way to his hometown Roorkee in Uttarakhand.
He was initially taken to Saksham Hospital Multispecialty and Trauma Centre, before being admitted to Max Hospital, Dehradun and then airlifted to Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. With Rishabh now on the long road to recovery, it meant that fans in New Delhi couldn’t see him in action during the second Test against Australia.
“The feeling of missing Rishabh Pant was there all the time, as he’s the bridge between middle and lower order and I connect with his batting too. Though (KS) Bharat is there, the standards set by Pant are really high,” says Ankit Kumar, a cricket enthusiast, to IANS.
Ever since India’s home season began with the T20Is against Sri Lanka in January, many posters of fans wishing Pant a speedy recovery were seen. A similar scene panned out in New Delhi, with one fan holding a placard which had ‘Get well soon Pant’ written. In another instance, a young man was holding a collage which had pictures of his exploits in Test cricket with ‘Miss U Rishab Pant, Get well soon’ written alongside a heart emoji.
“If you have Rishabh in your playing eleven, he’s going to have an impact, be it in keeping or batting. There’s the home factor too, because he’s played more Ranji Trophy matches here, rather than Virat Kohli in the last decade.”
“So, for me, Rishabh is more of a Delhi boy than Virat Kohli actually, as he (Kohli) was busy playing international cricket. So, there was the feeling that if Rishabh was there, it would have been much more thrilling and entertaining and he surely could have got a greater impact on the match,” adds Luvpreet.
Ankit was very keen to see Rishabh bailing India out of a tough situation in New Delhi, something which has defined his Test career. “When India had toured Australia last time, their main fortress was Gabba, and he breached it. He showed that I can breach your fortress and I was looking to see him do the same in India, which didn’t happen.”
“I don’t know when Delhi will get to host an India-Australia Test next time as he had shone in Australia and may have done the same here in Indian conditions, too. Now I am waiting for when this happens next time, and whether Delhi gets a Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test in the future or not.”
Rishabh’s absence hit Luvpreet hugely when India’s first innings was happening on day two’s play. “It felt especially when two-three wickets had fallen and Jadeja was batting with Kohli. They got a brilliant partnership and then Axar, Ashwin, got India back in the game.”
“But when Rishabh bats at five, the impact he makes, as seen in South Africa, England, Australia, could have changed the situation drastically, especially when Australia had three spinners, with one being a left-arm spinner (Matthew Kuhnemann).”
“We saw what Axar did against the left-arm spinner, and I can only imagine what Rishabh would have done if he was playing. If Rishabh was there, it would have been a different ball game for sure.”
Meanwhile, Ankit was missing Rishabh’s duel against off-spinner Nathan Lyon. “If Rishabh was there, his clash with Lyon would have been fascinating to watch as it has been a keenly contested one since the (2018/19 and 2020/21) series in Australia and if that had happened in Indian conditions, it could have been great to see as it could have added more interest to the series.”
With Rishabh unavailable at least for the foreseeable future, Luvpreet thinks he can take inspiration from how left-arm spin all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja has fared since his comeback to the game.
“I am praying and hoping that he gets well soon and gets back on his feet. He can take a huge amount of inspiration from Jadeja as he also came back after nearly six months and what an impact he has had since the last 15-20 days: – two continuous man of the match awards.”
“That’s the inspiration he can take to make a brilliant comeback. We all know the potential and brand of cricket he plays. I am pretty sure once he’s back, it will be a brilliant comeback whenever it comes.”
Ankit, too, hopes for Rishabh to recuperate soon. “I understand that his personal recovery is way more important right now. But I just hope he gets fine soon and tries to get back to the Indian team.”
“The game revolves around Pant, which is not happening currently, as I feel there’s a bit more security whenever he bats, keeps wickets or even indulges in some banter. I am just praying that he gets fit in time for the ODI World Cup, though I understand it could be difficult. But that is my expectation as of now.” (IANS)