I wanted to change people's perception of me, says Rishabh Pant

The Team India wicketkeeper gives THE WEEK an exclusive interview

43-Rishabh-Pant Rishabh Pant | Delhi Capitals

Q. From the Tests in Australia in early 2021 to the recent home win against Sri Lanka, how much has Rishabh Pant the player grown?

A/ The way the growth is going is really nice. But, at the same time, I am not focusing on it totally. I am just trusting the processes I have created over 15 months. Sometimes I do not get results, but I continue to believe in it.

Q/ What are these processes?

A/ It consists of many things like my diet regime, gym training, skill training and the mental side. Cricket is a skill-based game and I have to focus on that. And, yes, it is a mind game. If at the end of the day you can keep your mind in the same place, it does not matter if you score runs or not. I just keep believing in my process.

Q/ Any drastic changes in the diet?

A/ I just try to follow my dietician’s plan.

Q/ Your coaches, teammates and former players say you are mentally strong. How do you work on that?

A/ I try to meditate sometimes and I read positive quotes all the time. I try to relate my life to these. I focus on that one thought that has hit me as an individual and I do not think of anything else. There are so many distractions in cricket. So, how to keep yourself in check is very important. I have been trying to give myself time [to work] on that aspect; I talk to myself, keep telling myself I can do this. That is part of my mental journey, I guess.

Q/ How has the journey from 23 to 24 been as an individual?

A/ I am still naughty, because I do not want to leave my inner core. But, at the same time, you have to find a balance. When there is a serious discussion, I have to be serious and think about the game, focus on the process. In the past year or so, I have been making better choices. I have improved as a person, not changed as such. I have added a lot of things to my kitty.

Q/ What do those close to you say on seeing this Rishabh?

A/ They say, “I heard he speaks very maturely now!” (laughs) I tell them I am the same person, just making better choices.

Q/ In terms of performance, have you achieved the goals you set for yourself in the past year or so?

A/ I am not satisfied, but I am happy. If you work hard, you should be happy with what you have done. But you should not be complacent. International cricket is a journey, not a destination. It is not about scoring runs in one-odd series, but doing so over a period of time. If I can do [what I have done] over 10 years, then I can say I have done something.

Quick on his feet: Pant during the first Test against England in Nottingham last August. His keeping has vastly improved in the past two years | Getty Images Quick on his feet: Pant during the first Test against England in Nottingham last August. His keeping has vastly improved in the past two years | Getty Images

Q/ What have been your highlights on the field in the past year?

A/ One satisfying aspect has been my wicketkeeping. I wanted to do that (improve). People are saying, “Oh, you have changed as a wicketkeeper, you have improved a lot in the past two years.” That is what I wanted to hear. I was working hard on this for the past two to three years, but it takes time to change people’s perception in India. That was one of my main goals.

Q/ Any difference in your batting?

A/ I am in a happy zone with my batting. I am not thinking too much about what I have done or what I will do. I am just trusting my process and following the path I have laid by myself.

Q/ In the past year, you have scored your slowest and fastest Test fifties. What was the journey between the two and how challenging was it?

A/ It was obviously very challenging. That was a low phase in my life. You feel good when you come from hard times and play like that (series in England where he scored 50 off 101). But, at the same time, I do not think of either [fifties] too much. I just play on the merit of the ball. [However,] I did find that I could control my instincts better (laughs).

Q/ You lost your coach Tarak Sinha last November. How have you coped?

A/ I was devastated. It was [the same feeling I had] when I lost my father. From a cricketing point of view, I would always go to him (Sinha) for feedback; we were in constant touch while I was playing for India. We would talk regularly, and not always [about] coaching. He was like family—he took care of me like a father. It was a special thing for me. I will really miss him throughout my life.

People say it might get better over time, but this is about family. His going away cannot change, but perhaps I can focus on what I can do for his family.

The kind of work he has done in 40 to 50 years of coaching is phenomenal. I doubt there would be anyone like him in the world. I thank him for teaching me and taking care of me.

Q/ Any particular knock you thought he would have been happy to see?

A/ Not any particular innings, no. I do not say it, but I dedicate every innings to my father and Tarak sir. These two guys have been close to me in this cricketing journey. Whatever I am in life today, the credit goes to them.

Huge loss: Pant with his personal coach Tarak Sinha, who died in November. Huge loss: Pant with his personal coach Tarak Sinha, who died in November.

Q/ You are leading the Delhi Capitals at a young age. So much goes into leading; you have to focus on things beyond your own game. Are you ready for that?

A/ As I said before, I focus on my process. When you do [that], you do not feel pressure. You change your thought process into a positive one rather than doubting yourself. I like being in this position [where] my team can trust me. They have made me captain, and I have to pay back that trust. Hopefully, we can turn things around and win the IPL.

Q/ As DC captain, what have you been telling [spinner] Kuldeep Yadav? He has had a tough time being out of form and out of the national team.

A/ I just tell him to follow his heart. Most of the time, you have done all the hard work, but it is just a mind thing. So many factors are involved in cricket—how your day is going, what your thought process is, are you in two minds.... I tell him to make his plan and focus on that instead of focusing on many things at a time. That is something that has really helped me.

Backing [a player] helps but, at the same time, it is a personal choice.

Q/ DC has come close but has never won the trophy. How much more difficult has it become?

A/ It has obviously become more challenging, but we are all trying to give our 200 per cent every day to win the trophy. Some things are not under our control, but we can give our best.

Q/ What is your relationship with [former captain] M.S. Dhoni like?

A/ Mahi bhai is like family. Our relationship is very good. I have learnt a lot of things from him in my cricketing journey. He always says [that I should] focus on processes and the controllables. That has really helped me. You take out the extra things from your mind. His family, too, is great. Sakshi bhabhi, [daughter] Ziva, uncle, aunty; they are such a loving family. I love spending time with him.

Q/ So what do you discuss with him? Do you like cars and bikes like him or is it all about cricket?

A/ Right now I do not have time to focus on anything other than cricket (laughs). Maybe 10 to 12 years down the line.

Q/ Who all helped you in your journey, especially when you lost your place in the ODI team and were not the first-choice keeper in home Tests?

A/ It was a hard time and I shut out everyone. It was difficult for me to go to many people. I only believed in myself; I wanted to prove myself to the world. I did not want to think negative thoughts. I was waiting for my chance. I was talking to Rohit [Sharma] bhai and Mahi bhai a little bit. But mostly I kept believing in myself.

Q/ You spoke about Rohit Sharma. You have also played Under-19 cricket under Rahul Dravid’s coaching. What assurances have they given you?

A/ As a cricketer you can cement your place in the side if you perform. But, at the same time, the captain and the coach help you improve your thought process, help you improve as a player. I had these small talks with Rahul bhai and Rohit bhai—they told me what they wanted me to do for the Indian team. I want to learn and improve every day. You have to keep working hard every day if you want to improve—that is the mantra I follow.

Q/ You got Covid-19 in England last year. How tough was the isolation and time away from the team?

A/ It was difficult, obviously, but I was lucky. The place I was quarantining in was big enough and had a garden. It was my uncle’s place. I watched TV, Netflix; the trainer told me not to train. It was difficult because there was nothing to do. [All I could do was] watch movies all day or lie around. [It is tough,] especially when you are used to moving all the time. But I had no option.

Q/ You were Rohit Sharma’s deputy for a series recently. Do you enjoy the responsibility?

A/ I enjoy that part as a wicketkeeper. You tend to move fielders here and there, and you read the game standing behind the stumps. You realise how the wicket is behaving and see the reaction of the batter. I try to read that and convey it to Rohit bhai. He said I could help him set the field. I was doing my part as a keeper to help my captain.

Q/ You have also started reading.

A/ (Nods) It is mostly general knowledge stuff from Google and positive thoughts. I just want to keep myself in a positive frame of mind. I do not want to get distracted. I recently saw the movie 83. It was interesting when Kapil [Dev] paaji was batting; all had lost hope but he stood tall and believed he could win the game for his team.

Q/ Rohit Sharma recently said you can change a game in 40 minutes. But also that he wants you to play according to the situation. How do you balance the two?

A/ I have not thought too much [about that]. I play according to the ball. You mentioned the slowest and fastest 50. What I am able to do now I maybe should have done five years ago—it is all about experience. That is the difference between a youngster and an established player.

Q/ You have been in the bio-bubble for so long. How difficult has it been for you and your family?

A/ In the past two years, I have been home for seven or eight days only. It takes a toll on your mental health. In cricket you need to switch off, too. You do not get that inside a bubble.

Q/ How do you switch off from cricket?

A/ Netflix, table tennis, snooker and PlayStation. But you cannot do that every day. There are times when all you want is to sit with family or friends and talk to them. At the same time, I am thankful I am playing cricket. When we resumed cricket [a few months into the pandemic], it was like a new journey.

Q/ Do you feel you have achieved the targets for the season?

A/ There is always room for improvement. At the same time, in life, there are big and small goals. I have not achieved the big one yet, but I have ticked quite a few boxes along the way. Till the big one is ticked, I will not tell you.

Q/ In white-ball cricket, especially ODIs, the century is elusive. Does it bother you?

A/ Personal goals are important, but I do not focus on landmarks. I am fine scoring 97. I just want to give my 200 per cent. If I think too much about landmarks, then I will not be able to perform in the next match. I just want to [do] whatever the team management wants me to do. If I can win matches for India, that is the biggest kick for me.

Q/ What is your main goal?

A/ In the IPL, we [will focus on] one match at a time, focus on making the playoffs, then take it forward. [We want to] keep the environment good for players.

For team India, this year is the WT20 (T20 World Cup). The goal is to win it.