Pant sets up risky business

Updated: Dec 13, 2018, 10:43 IST | Clayton Murzello

India wicketkeeper must remember that his behind-the-stumps chirping could prove counter productive when he faces the Aussie quicks

Australia captain Tim Paine (left) regains his ground as India wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant jumps during Day Five of the opening Test at Adelaide recently. Pic/AFP
Australia captain Tim Paine (left) regains his ground as India wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant jumps during Day Five of the opening Test at Adelaide recently. Pic/AFP

Clayton MurzelloWicketkeepers are a chirpy lot. Not many chirpier than India's latest stumper Rishabh Pant it appears, after his verbal performance on the final day of the opening Test against the Australians at Adelaide earlier this week.

Australia were six down for 161 and India right on top as Ravichandran Ashwin bowled to tailender Pat Cummins with Australian captain Tim Paine at the other end. The producers at Fox Cricket decided to turn the stump microphone on and let their commentators not say a word for the entire over.

After the first delivery, which Pant collected, slip fielder Ajinkya Rahane yelled, "Bowling Ashley." Not to be outdone by Rahane, Pant exclaimed, "Bowling Ash, bowling Ash." He then began directing his encouragement to the batsman to hit a six and repeated his, "C'mon Patty." As the over progressed, Pant reminded Cummins that it was not easy batting during that phase of the game. He also pointed out that Cummins was not putting away bad balls. Another spell of encouragement to Ashwin was about keep bowling on the "patch".

Cummins survived the over and former Australia Test players Kerry O'Keefe and Mike Hussey found it very funny in the commentary box. I wonder whether Ashwin was impressed because Pant was actually telling the opposition batsman that his team's illustrious spinner was bowling bad balls.

Cummins and Pant have played in the same Delhi Daredevils team and it is likely they are pals. But this was no Indian Premier League gig. It was a Test match and the pressure was of a different kind. While Pant was trying to get under the skin of an opposition batsman, he also put himself at risk. Make that plural – risks – because one, he would not be spared of the short stuff when Cummins bowls to him next (the venue happens to be Perth which some pundits reckon has the fastest pitch in Australia) and secondly, incidents like these may lead to a physical attack. Nothing can be ruled out in this game when it comes to an angry reaction and that's the last thing this great India v Australia rivalry needs.

There is a good possibility that Pant's verbal drivel was a result of being provoked earlier in the Test when the stump microphone was not turned on. Be that as it may, it amazed me how umpire Nigel Llong didn't feel the need to walk up to Pant and ask him to stop speaking to the batsman. No one can prevent encouragement to the bowler or the team in general, but here was Pant actually provoking the batsman into a reaction. The umpires are empowered to act and Llong – unless he hadn't heard what Pant, standing up, was uttering – ought to have confronted Pant and captain Virat Kohli.

For long now, banter has been tolerated as part of the game and they say it decorates the theatre of cricket. Sure, the willow game is unlike a game of chess, but if batsmen are relentlessly not allowed to concentrate then it's just not cricket.

A well-timed sledge is understandable, but what Pant did was not funny. It cannot and must not be applauded. Ditto the possible act of provocation from the Australians.

Ah, I've become too serious, so I am going to share with you two of my favourite India v Australias ledges. The first one concerns Parthiv Patel, who is in the current Indian squad. When Steve Waugh was getting ready to play a fighting knock in his last innings under a baggy green cap at Sydney in 2004, Patel, three months shy of turning 19 then, said to the retiring great: "Let's finish it off with a slog sweep." It provoked Waugh, who replied: "Listen mate, how about showing some respect. When I played my first Test, you were still running around in nappies."

The second one also involves a member of the Indian camp in Australia – head coach Ravi Shastri. The Indian opener was carving out a fine double century at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1992 (his 206 is the highest by an India opener in Australia) against the host team led by Allan Border, who was testing Shastri with a few verbals.

Shastri took a single and substitute Michael Whitney held back his throw when he realised the batsman would make his ground. "Next time, I'll blow your f**k**g head off," he warned Shastri. Not known to hold back even when it came to the most aggressive team in the world, Shastri said to Whitney at the end of the over: "If your bowling was as good as your throwing, you wouldn't be Australia's 12th man."

Back to Pant. The Adelaide Test proved memorable for him because he pouched 11 catches to join England's Jack Russell and South African legend AB de Villiers in the record books for the most catches in a Test. Apart from their skills, both these stalwarts will also be remembered for not saying much to their opponents. Got the drift, rookie?

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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