Rishabh Pant played a vital role as a wicketkeeper-batsman in the recently concluded four-Test series against Australia. His keeping, sledging and attacking batting gave India a 2-1 series win, making Virat Kohli’s Indian cricket team the first Asian side and the first from India to ever win a Test series Down Under. Following the end of the series, Pant was rested for the limited overs leg in Australia and New Zealand. The young Delhi keeper took a break for some days but he resumed his cricketing duties in style. Pant smashed 73 off 76 and was well-backed up by Shardul Thakur’s 4/49 as India A defeated England Lions by six wickets at the Greenfield International stadium in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday to take a 4-0 lead in the five-match series.
England Lions won the toss and chose to bat and were immediately in trouble at 55/4, with Thakur, Avesh Khan and Rahul Chahar running through the top order. A partnership of 58 between Sam Billings, the skipper and Ollie Pope helped England Lions steady the innings. When Billings was caught by Pant off Chahar, the onus was on Pope and Steven Mullaney to help England get to a good total. Pope and Mullaney both scored fifties but Thakur came back strongly in the death overs to finish with four wickets as England Lions finished on 221/8 in 50 overs.
In response, India A lost Ruturaj Gaikwad cheaply but Ricky Bhui and KL Rahul stitched a solid stand. Rahul, whose suspension also ended along with Hardik Pandya for his comments on the show Koffee With Karan, looked in good touch and the partnership went past 50. However, England Lions fought back by getting rid of Bhui (35) and then getting rid of Rahul (42) and Ankit Bawne for 12 in quick succession.
However, Pant and Deepak Hooda took the attack to the England Lions bowlers with offbreak bowler Matthew Carter bearing the brunt of the onslaught. Pant smashed three sixes and six fours while Hooda blasted a couple of sixes as India A coasted towards victory. Pant and Hooda’s 120-run stand helped India A extend their advantage to 4-0 in the five-match series and they will be gunning for a 5-0 whitewash.
Pant was the star performer in Australia, taking a joint-world record of 11 catches in Adelaide and his 20 dismissals in the four-match bilateral series was the most by an Indian wicketkeeper in a Test series. With the bat, the left-hander was the star as he blasted 350 runs at an average of 58. His 159* in Sydney made him the first Indian wicketkeeper to hit a century in Australia while his second ton overseas made him the only Indian keeper to achieve this feat. Behind the wickets, Pant was also involved in some memorable sledges to the Australian players, giving them a dose of their own medicine.