Rishabh Pant starred with the bat after Deepak Chahar had broken the West Indian top-order with the ball to help India complete their fourth T20I whitewash of their history. India won by seven wickets with nearly an over to spare at Guyana to win the series 3-0.
MS Dhoni’s decision to pull out from this series against West Indies would have given him a chance to reassess his career ahead but what it has also done is to allow India a chance to groom the keeper behind him. Pant, who was also called up in the World Cup after the Shikhar Dhawan injury, has been India’s number one keeper in Tests and acquitted himself well but for reasons unknown, his batting in the white ball format, especially in T20I cricket, hasn’t been something that one would expect out of him.
For someone that talented, Pant’s T20I average was a mere 17 before this series and it fell to lower than that after the first two games. A first-ball duck followed by a fifth-ball dismissal in those games were bad enough but the shots he played made those knocks worse. The impetuousness of youth often blurs with the rashness that this format allows but by any standard, an average of 17 wouldn’t have endeared him to his backers.
Which is why, despite the dead nature of this contest, Pant’s unbeaten 65 in a winning cause would have gone some distance in calming those critics, and his own jangling nerves. And while the series was already decided, Pant’s innings and his partnership with captain Virat Kohli was as crucial as they come in a potentially sticky situation that India found themselves in chasing 147 on another tacky-looking pitch.
Pant came out at number four, his preferred position in recent times as well, with India having lost both their openers. They had just 27 on the board at that stage and consumed 4.4 overs by then. The required-rate, which had begun at 7.35 RPO at the start of the chase, kept mounting as the pair of Kohli and Pant tried to get used to the conditions, reaching 9.4 at one stage with Pant batting at just around a run a ball.
It was in the 13th over, he got enough room to open his arms and smashed his first six of the innings. Couple of overs he made it his second and then chipped in another couple of boundaries to bring up his half-century off a mere 37 balls. Pant had been on 23 off 24 deliveries at one stage, adding another 27 off the next 13 balls.
Kohli had himself brought up his 50 at the other end and while he endured a tame end to his innings, a slice going straight to the point’s hands, Pant finished off the game with a couple of sixes.
This was after Deepak Chahar, who had come into the side in place of Khaleel Ahmed - one of the three changes India made today - struck thrice in seven balls to reduce West Indies to 14 for three in the fourth over. It was a case of the batsmen falling to the kind of swing more visible in red-ball cricket, with Chahar reciprocating his movement and form from his time at the IPL for Chennai Super Kings to peg the West Indian side back.
Kieron Pollard picked up from he had left off in the first game, blasting six sixes - most of them effortlessly hit - and in partnership with Rovman Powell, pushed West Indies to a challenging total. In fact it could have been a tad more than that with a well-settled Pollard at the crease going into the final five overs and Powell at the other end.
The return of Navdeep Saini to the bowling crease changed that; wickets of Nicholas Pooran and Pollard ensuring the final acceleration came only in the 20th over of the innings with West Indies ending on what turned out to a below-par 146.