In life there are short straws and writing about a Sensible Rishabh Pant innings is one of those short straws. I’m not being ungrateful. A Sensible Rishabh Pant innings is still worth more than, say, all of Sir Alastair Cook’s most un-boring (the laptop is not allowing me to type “entertaining”) innings. A Sensible Rishabh Pant innings is still more fun than an entire career’s worth of innings by… (no, I’m not going to name Dom Sibley, Azhar Ali, Cheteshwar Pujara, Dean Elgar, Kraigg Brathwaite or Geoffrey Boycott here).
He ended up with 146 off 111 balls, the second-fastest 100 by an Indian in England, neither of which are necessarily facts from a sensible innings. And yes, he did start the innings by charging at the first ball he faced from James Anderson. He inside-edged it for a single, probably the least-sensible-but-most-entertaining single you will see in Tests this year. And his first boundary was another charge at Anderson and a drive straight past him. For which apologies – in the subcontinent we’re taught from a very young age to show with utmost respect to elders and Pant let us down there.
Oh, also he did try to sweep Ben Stokes one ball but missed. Most batters might show some contrition and double down on defending the next ball; Pant tried to reach a ball so wide he wouldn’t have reached it if he was using Mohammad Irfan as a bat. He ended that over with this one shot, this curious blend of a chop, dab and cut that slipped through point and looked like no shot that had ever been played before. Joe Root was talking about rewriting the coaching manual after reverse-scooping some sixes a couple of weeks ago: meanwhile, Pant’s bashing out a fresh manual every time he comes out to bat.
Jack Leach came on, which, given his record against Pant before this Test – 88 runs off 59 balls – was a sign that even England were also finding this innings a little too sensible. In succession, four, four, six; in sum 59 runs off 32 balls; in between a charge and loft that left Pant flat on his back; also in between, a six with one hand off the handle in an over that cost 22. By then England had blinked and put a man out at long-on and he was still hitting sixes over them. But, I mean, give a four-year old a can of soda at 8pm on a weeknight and see how sensible that leaves them?
But when he got to fifty with this unassuming clip off his thighs that looked like it might fetch a single, then two because it was timed well but then the fielder at the deep square leg boundary’s sprawling to stop and can’t because it’s timed so well, that too felt apposite. It was a sensible, no-frills, no-frolics shot. Even at nearly a run-a-ball, this fifty was like here, take this Les Paul guitar, this Marshall amp and just turn the volume down to one when you jam okay?
I swear this really was sensible Pant. Picking his battles, picking his areas, picking his shots (okay, not all the time), running eagerly, not forgetting the easy runs, all the things you can tune out from. In between deliveries he’d walk away with the bat over his left shoulder and to some minds he might have been carrying it like an ax, but really it made more sense to think of it as him carrying a boombox. With the volume down.
It took him four scoring shots to get from 92 to 100, when basically he’s the one batter in world cricket who might one day hit an eight. And when he got to the century, he was diving back for the second like he was Steve Waugh, straining like the run’s the most important thing in the world and not at all like a batter who’s been out in the 90s five times. It was percentages cricket.
Even after tea when the numbers are telling us this was not a Sensible Rishabh Pant innings but a Pure Rishabh Pant innings (he was 53 off 52 at tea and then scored 93 off 59), Pant wasn’t doing Pant things. He took apart Matthew Potts in a way that was positively well-manned: a stand-and-admire cover drive, two smart back cuts, a couple of well-behaved pulls, a whip through midwicket. No risks taken, nothing not sensible about any of those shots and yet six boundaries in 17 balls and England’s best bowler this summer had been seen off.
When Joe Root bowled him a bouncer and he pulled it for four, it was Root who was not being sensible. Pant played the most sensible shot he could to it. Which is around the point, not long before he got out, that I realized that this wasn’t the short straw at all. Pant’s sensible is just not other people’s sensible.
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo