Rishabh Pant must be dying to play some actual cricket. It is hard to imagine anyone worse off for the rain in Dharamsala. If the best place for stocks as a cricketer to rise is outside a team, the opposite holds true for someone in Pant's situation. Not long ago the darling of the team management for his fearless approach and intent to cricket, he now finds himself in the "careless" bracket.
In an interview recorded before the first match, which was washed out, both captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri told Pant off for injudicious shot selection that was, according to them, letting himself and the team down. Now the new batting coach, Vikram Rathour, has called for him to sort his game plans without compromising on his explosive and innovative style. Not a ball is bowled in the series yet, and Pant is already a worse player than he was, and MS Dhoni a better one.
It might not be unreasonable if Pant is sitting and wondering why no one admonishes him when he plays those crazy innings full of those outrageous shots. That is why it is important for the communication from the team management to be precise and clear. Rathour said having those conversations, a lot of them, was the most important part of his job. He said technical adjustments never stop as long as you play cricket, but technique can be over-emphasised at times.
"At this level it is more about the mindset," Rathour said. "Getting your game plans right. Lots and lots of discussions. Why they are making certain decisions at whichever time they do that. Someone like Rishabh, I think he is a phenomenal player. There is no doubt about that."
And then comes the proverbial "but". "Of course he needs to sort out his game plans a little more," Rathour said. "Bring a little bit of discipline to his game. All the young players need to realise that there is a fine line between fearless cricket and careless cricket. What the team management is asking of them is fearless cricket. Having clear game plans and playing with intent and backing your strengths. At the same time, they cannot be careless. I am sure they are starting to understand that."
It will be part of Rathour's job to understand why a batsman played a certain "careless" shot: if it was pressure, if it was lack of intensity, if it was lack of fitness, or if it was the lack of requisite skill to play that shot. He will also have to understand that the definition of "careless" is different for different batsmen, their definition of risk is different, their percentages are different. Many coaches get bothered only if a batsman goes out and does something in a match that he has not practised in the nets.
These criticisms are not new for Pant. He has experienced all these whispers all his career because he doesn't play the "safe" way Indian batsmen grow up playing. His counter always is that he is not stupid, and that he is trying to do what he thinks is the best for the team. In an interview with ESPNcricinfo earlier this year, Pant said: "If you are playing days cricket and get out trying to hit a six, everybody knows and says it is irresponsible. But when it comes off, nobody says anything. The percentage is what matters. If you are getting out in ten matches but are getting the results in nine of them, that is important. If my percentage of results is high, I only focus on my process. And if something is working for me, it might not work for someone else. Similarly if something is working for someone else, it might not always help me.
"It feels like all my life I have played only cricket. By now, at least this much I know: how to play in what situation. Sometimes you have to curb your instincts, that is also important. At the end of the day, you have to score runs. Can't play just to survive."
This much is clear then: Pant knows what he is trying to do when he takes a risk. In the example that Shastri gave of the golden duck in the Trinidad ODI, Pant came in with the required run rate at 7.58 for the remaining 23 overs. It was a given that Kohli would aim to bat through the innings and others would have to score at higher than a run a ball if India were to remain abreast with the asking rate. Shreyas Iyer, the next batsman in, did just that and earned the plaudits from Kohli for taking the pressure off him.
It is important for Rathour and the rest of the team management to not dissuade Pant from playing with that same intent the next time he is in a similar situation. They don't want to lose a selfless batsman. It is the execution they need to work on. From what Rathour has said in his first press conference as India's batting coach, that intent seems welcome.
Rathour agreed India had perhaps not taken the T20 format seriously at international level, and needed to go hard through the innings and not just towards the end. This approach is bound to bring along with it shots that might seem careless to an outsider.
"Of course we want him to play all his shots," Rathour said. "That is what makes him special. He is an impact player, but at the same time he cannot afford to be careless. He needs to understand the difference between the two."
Unless the team thinks Pant tends to let his intensity drop and that he needs a public rocket to set that right, it will need, in the words of Rathour, a lot of discussions to explain this difference between fearless and careless to Pant.