Rishabh Pant is a busy man these days. He is juggling gym sessions, net-training and shoots all day. This thankless schedule is the life of a regular IPL captain these days. Yet, his voice has an unusual calm as he squeezes out half an hour for a chat with TOI.
He is the No. 1 wicketkeeper in India right now and a box office draw in world cricket. Ask him about his most satisfying and disappointing moment post the Gabba heist last year, and he calmly says: “What I have understood over a period of time is that playing international cricket is not the destination, it’s a journey.”
Excerpts from an exclusive interview…
This is your seventh season with Delhi Capitals. You became the captain at the age of 24. How does it feel?
When I first came to the Capitals, I got a lot of confidence after meeting the owners, support staff. In the last three-four years, we have changed a lot as a team. I wanted to become the best player of the franchise first. I started learning from everyone around me. When I came to the IPL setup, we had gun fast bowlers like Pat Cummins, Shami, Rabada and Coulter-Nile. I told myself if I can play these prime international bowlers, I will get confidence. All these things have helped me reach the place where I am today. I added all the learning to my game but I never wanted to change my style of play.
People have big expectations from you. You have a reputation of being a crowd puller. How difficult is it to not overdo things?
It’s an honour for me. If people are expecting things from me, that means I am doing something good in life. It’s a challenge to not focus on the expectations. When you become a captain then it’s not about yourself. You have to see how new people are gelling with the team, if they are comfortable. You have to learn from different people and share your knowledge with everyone.
How do you deal with the tag of being a freak cricketer who doesn’t think much about the game?
I am not worried about people passing comments on me now. But it does get to you sometimes. You have to look in the mirror and check if you had done your process right – like diet, training, recovery. There are so many distractions at the international level, it’s difficult to do that. I think about my cricket and the game a lot because that’s what I have always loved to do. You need to filter things and see what you can do to improve as a human being.
Rohit Sharma said that the team is ready to accept Rishabh Pant the way he is. Have you accepted the way people react to your performances?
It doesn’t matter if I am comfortable or not. Criticism is going to happen anyway. I try to focus on the controllables.
Your wicketkeeping has improved almost overnight from the home series against England last year. Was there any input from a coach?
It’s more about confidence and doing the same thing again and again. When you come to international cricket, people form their own opinions. People had already decided in their minds that ‘yaar, yeh keeping aise hi karta hai (he keeps only this way). ‘ Every ‘keeper will drop chances once or twice. If you can soak that pressure in, you can rise to a different level. It shows in my performance now. You can’t have results overnight and it’s difficult to change opinions in a month. It took me around two years to change that opinion about me.
You are now part of the senior leadership group in the Indian team. Does responsibility bring about consistency in your game?
Sometimes it does. They made me the vice-captain for a couple of matches. But giving my 200 per cent as a player is the only thing under my control. As a part of the leadership group, I had to give my 200 per cent every day and help people around me. It could be backing a bowler, helping Rohit bhai set a fielder in a particular position. You don’t need a designation to help your mates.
You have spent the most time in bio-bubbles for an Indian cricketer. How difficult has it been to improve on your cricket in this situation?
You have to be an allrounder as a sportsperson, someone who can adjust to any situation. It was a challenge that we had to stay in bubbles and couldn’t even go home and meet family. But you have to come up with your own ideas to deal with it and keep improving. I didn’t get much time to get refreshed. So, I started reading a lot of books, working on my general knowledge by reading stuff online. The best thing about bubbles is your team gets closer to you.
You post a lot of inspirational quotes and videos on Instagram…
I changed my process in the last three years. There was a hard time in my career a few years ago. I was trying to explore myself more. I wanted to see what else I could do to improve, especially on the mental aspect of the game. These positive things helped me groom myself as a cricketer. When you start attracting positive energy, the game changes there.
Is there a particular genre you prefer reading?
I don’t fixate on anything. I read biographies but mostly for positive quotes and general knowledge. There are so many positive quotes which relate to you. These quotes have helped me grow as a person.
You were in England when your coach Tarak Sinha fell terminally ill before he passed away during the T20 World Cup. You had done a lot for his treatment. How difficult was that phase?
I wanted to come back and meet him (chokes). I really miss my father. When my father left me, I was playing cricket. Tarak sir was like my second father. When he left us, I was again busy playing. These people have taken me where I stand today. I tried my best to provide all the support he (Tarak sir) needed from there. He told me, ‘Doesn’t matter what happens in life, you have to keep playing cricket. ‘ You need to take care of your family and that’s what I have tried.
He was your go-to man. Who is your sounding board now?
No one can fill the void created by my father and Tarak sir. But you have to have people around you. I share my problems with my mother sometimes. Devendra Sharma (Sinha’s student and colleague at Sonnet Club) is there. I have a really small circle. Everyone has his own place. Friends and family have their own separate places in my life.
You have always been the ‘fun guy’. Does that change when you lead a team?
There has to be a balance. It doesn’t mean I have to be serious all the time just because I have become a captain. But you also have to have serious conversations. There’s a difference between changing and improving. For example, fitness is important but you can’t only be thinking about fitness. My priority is to win the IPL. I can’t change a person in two months. You can provide him an environment to improve but can’t turn someone into a superhero in two months. You can’t force things on people. But you need to get a person on the same frequency as yours. I am just trying to trust the process which we have created here at Capitals in a few years.
You play three formats. Then there is workload management. Does that break your rhythm when things are going well?
As a team, we try to give players as many matches as possible to play. The amount of cricket we have been playing in the last three-four years and that we are going to play in the immediate future is massive. We play a lot of cricket throughout the year. You have to manage your body and mind.
You had said that the most difficult thing is to not overthink…
I have not thought about it that way anymore. I can’t be worrying about thinking about the game. You have to find that balance, not only in cricket but also in life. You have to understand priorities change with time. You have to create your own process.