IPL 2024: Jittery, nervous, excited – Rishabh Pant on emotions ahead of long-awaited return

March 22, 2024
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Even though Saturday’s match between Delhi Capitals and Punjab Kings is the first afternoon fixture of Indian Premier League

Mullanpur (Mohali), March 22 (IANS) Even though Saturday’s match between Delhi Capitals and Punjab Kings is the first afternoon fixture of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024, the spotlight is on Rishabh Pant’s return to professional cricket, overshadowing the excitement surrounding the game.

The sight of Pant taking the field as DC’s captain and do his thing at a cricket ground after 14 months of recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident in December 2022 will undoubtedly stir the emotions of every human present at the Maharaja Yadavindra Singh International Cricket Stadium in Mullanpur.

But what about the feelings of the man of the moment on the verge of his return to where he truly belongs in just under 24 hours from now? “Jittery, nervous, excited – all of them. But at the same time, I am just happy to be able to come back to playing professional cricket. I’m just looking forward to playing my first game tomorrow,” said Pant in the pre-match press conference.

“Every time I take the field, it’s a different feeling altogether. I just wanted to bat as much as I could and get better every day. I don’t think much about the future, I take one day at a time, and look to give my 100% each and every day,” Pant said on Friday.

Despite the question of whether Pant can swiftly find his match fitness and rhythm as a wicketkeeper-batter and captain, his time off from the sport has amplified his love for the game more than ever. Pant struggled to find words to express his emotions upon entering the field for the first time after being cleared fully fit by the NCA.

“I just wanted to be in the moment at that time and there are no words to describe that kind of feeling when you are out on the field after one and a half years. Nothing comes close to loving that feeling and there are not enough words to describe that feeling. When I entered the field even in the practice matches at the NCA and now whenever I take the field, it’s a different feeling for me. I just love the game more and more now, that’s it.”

Before he participated in DC’s pre-season camp in Visakhapatnam, Pant shared a video in which he concealed his face with a handkerchief and engaged in a game of marbles with children on the streets of Bengaluru, a moment he sought to savor and enjoy.

“I was just cycling around where I was staying in Bengaluru. On seeing the kids playing marbles, I felt like I could play with these kids and my heart also felt the same. Generally, what happens is when you are playing at the top level, you think about a lot of things and so much might happen. But at the same time, you have to enjoy the moment and that’s what I tried to do. I felt like doing it in that moment; just did it and I was happy with it.”

In Visakhapatnam, Pant was practising his repertoire of shots which made him a fan-favourite around the world and left their heartbeat racing on seeing audacious strokeplay from the left-hander’s willow. The time before coming to Chandigarh was for Pant to get back that feeling of being himself with the bat.

“I am coming back after a long injury, and my aim from a batting point of view was to get as much batting practice as possible, to get into the position of playing shots and the muscle memory was always there with me since childhood, even though I didn’t play for one and a half years.”

“My intention as a cricketer was to get better and I am finding it fun to do everything. For me, the most important thing is to enjoy everything, be happy and give your 100% at the ground. I want to say thanks to the fans as they have been supporting us for so many years and they have been very helpful during the injury recovery,” he said.

Liam Livingstone, another explosive batter from the Punjab Kings, welcomed Pant’s return. “Firstly, I have just seen Rishabh, so it’s obviously nice to see him back. He’s obviously been through a lot over the last 18 months. I’m sure everyone in the cricket family will be happy to see him back and fit and healthy and playing again,” he said in the pre-match press conference.

The DC camp is all smiles, thanks to Pant’s return, mentioned head coach Ricky Ponting. “We are about to start an IPL (campaign), it’s really an exciting time of the year. We missed our captain and one of the best players in the world last year. This year, it becomes more exciting when your captain is back in your team. His attitude, smile, and the way he goes about his business; he wants to win games for the team.”

“When you have that attitude in the team, it brings an infectious energy to everyone in the team. He is our leader, he is the heartbeat of this franchise, and having him back is going to make this team a lot better and stronger. I and the entire team are smiling to see him back in the mix.”

In Pant’s absence, DC looked lost as a unit in IPL 2023, finishing at ninth place. There were doubts about his future as a cricketer and whether he could maintain his fearless and free-spirited style of play. However, Ponting reassured that Pant himself had no uncertainty about playing cricket again.

“I caught up with Rishabh a couple of times during the IPL last year. At that stage, he was on crutches and was just trying to walk. I then met him during the camp in Kolkata, when the World Cup was on, where he was walking a lot freer and was starting to do just jogging.”

“The next time I saw him, it was at the camp in Vizag, and look at him – he’s ready to go. It’s an amazing story and we as Delhi Capitals and cricket-loving people in India should be really proud of it. He’s worked extremely hard and there were a lot of doubters over him playing again.”

“But in his own heart and mind, he never had those doubts; it was just a matter of time for him to come back and look at the way he’s presented himself for this IPL. He’s all set to go and we are very excited to see what he brings.”

Saturday might not answer all the queries surrounding Pant’s restart of his cricketing career, but it has the potential to set the stage for an inspiring comeback. Trust him to embrace his inner child on the field, finding joy in being part of the game and fully immersing himself in every moment of action.

“We had a week’s training in Vizag before coming here and trust me Rishabh is back and ready to play. He is batting and moving behind the stumps beautifully, he will be a little bit nervous tomorrow, playing his first game in a while. But nerves are always good because it means something to you. I’ve seen where his game is at, and don’t be surprised if something special happens tomorrow,” concluded Ponting.

–IANS/nr/bsk/

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