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Cricket news - The fine line between 'fearless' and 'careless' - Pant walks a tightrope

"He (Pant) needs to be fearless, because that's what makes him special. He's an impact player. But at the same time he cannot afford to be careless" - Rathour

As the T20 caravan descended from hilly Dharamsala to Mohali, after India's series opener against South Africa was washed out due to incessant rains, Rishabh Pant hit the nets rightaway after checking in on Monday, with the team's new batting coach Vikram Rathour and the Pandya brothers for company. The series hasn't even technically gotten underway yet, and the pressure on the Indian wicketkeeper has increased manifold already.

The chatter started in the West Indies after Pant's dismissal in the Trinidad ODI, where the wicketkeeper-batsman skipped down the track to Fabian Allen off the first ball he faced in the chase and mistimed to mid-off to bag a golden duck. India then needed another 164 off 22.3 overs, which the partnership between Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer took care of eventually, but Pant's recklessness isn't forgotten yet, as is now made clear by the team management.

"He tries to repeat it a couple of times and gets out, he will be told," Ravi Shastri did not mince his words in an interview to the official broadcaster, aired on the sidelines of the rained-out Dharamasala game, adding, "because you are letting the team down, forget letting yourself down." Told off by the team's head coach, with so much as a 'rap on the knuckles' threat, Kohli tried to diffuse the situation by adding that the demand from any player is simple - match awareness.

Lance Klusener, South Africa's white-ball batting coach, who has seen a bit of Pant at Delhi Daredevils during his time as their consultant, had earlier in the week reprimanded Pant for his tendency to "get ahead of himself". And now the latest to join the queue of concerned men is Rathour himself, asking for Pant to "know the difference between fearless and careless cricket" - to get his game plans right without making any compromise on his style of cricket that makes him the batsman he is.

Pant swears by 'see the ball, hit the ball' that made him a household name much before he donned India colours. His incredible six-hitting capabilities caught the attention of the Delhi Daredevils camp, and an IPL season later the national selectors fast-tracked him into the T20I side in 2017. The following year, in Wriddhiman Saha's long injury-forced absence, Pant comfortably pipped all who auditioned to become India's frontline choice with a mighty impressive century in England. No mean feat, then. And since, Pant has managed to keep the fit-again Saha out.

And then came 2019. With the widely speculated presumption that the World Cup was to be MS Dhoni's swansong, the passing of the proverbial baton seemed imminent. While there remains a firm question mark over his future with the team - with Dhoni excusing himself from white-ball cricket since - it has only meant more opportunities coming Pant's way to nail down his spot in the two shorter formats. Instead, he's struggled to replicate his domestic T20 form internationally and achieve the consistency the highest level demands. After 17 outings in T20I so far, Pant averages an underwhelming 21.57 with ten of them being single-digit scores. His last five innings in the format read 3, 1, 0, 4 and then the career-best 65 not out in West Indies, further highlighting the irregularity in the frequency of knocks that would help establish him as fearsome besides his fearlessness.

Pant has a sheet of such reprimands, starting right from his personal coach and those at the age-group level. There's no shortage of talent - that's never been the complaint. It's not the technique or the free-spirited approach to batting that raises questions, mind you, for when it comes off, there are fewer things more spectacular. Rathour concurs.

"See, technique is something which you keep working on till the time you're playing cricket. You will keep adjusting it here and there all the time. But at times I think we over emphasise on technique," Rathour told reporters in Mohali on Tuesday, brushing aside the idea that Pant's technique - or lack of thereof - is the underlying issue and on his agenda in this job he's now had for "three days". The batting coach stressed on the importance of having a clear communication channel with the players and "lots and lots of discussions" about their mindset in the middle.

"At this level it is more about your mindsets, getting your game plan right, have lots and lots of discussions on why they're making certain decisions at whichever time they do that. Someone like Rishabh, he's a phenomenal player, there's no doubt about that. But, of course, he needs to sort out his game plans a little more. 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 smart enough to understand that.

"What I am saying is of course we want him to play all his shots. He needs to be fearless, because that's what makes him special. He's an impact player. But at the same time he cannot afford to be careless, that's all. He needs to understand the difference between those two," Rathour concluded.

The management's demands are clear, and simple - respect the opportunity being given and repay the undying faith placed in him to be given the longer rope on reputation. Pant would do well to remember there's a KL Rahul waiting in the wings, still attached to the T20I side if not Test, and hence, the competition is not entirely over. And then there is that man, too, who hasn't really official uttered the R word yet.

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