May 11, 2018 / 4:51 AM / 12 days ago

Cricket - Breathless Pant steps up to challenge Dhoni with IPL ton

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - If Rishabh Pant is tired of living in Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s shadow, the 20-year-old left-hander did a good job of venting any frustration with a blistering century in the Indian Premier League (IPL) at Feroz Shah Kotla on Thursday.

Chief selector MSK Prasad has often said the wicketkeeper-batsman remains very much on India’s limited-overs radar, while Pant knows his sporadic international appearances depend less on his performances and more on Dhoni’s fitness and availability.

Two days after being dropped from India’s Twenty20 squad for their tour of Ireland and England in order to accommodate a returning Dhoni, Pant displayed his six-hitting prowess with a blistering unbeaten 63-ball 128, albeit in a losing cause.

The nine-wicket loss to Sunrisers Hyderabad ensured his Delhi Daredevils became the first team to be knocked out of this year’s IPL, while their opponents progressed to the playoffs.

Pant left the field with his head held high, however, having destroyed arguably the tournament’s best bowling attack to register the highest Twenty20 score by an Indian player.

“Really special innings from Rishabh,” former India opener Virender Sehwag, a prominent hard-hitting batsman of his time, gushed on Twitter.

“Those were not bad balls from Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) in the last over barring the last full toss, but Rishabh Pant is really special and I hope he is nurtured well.”

Pant was savage on the IPL’s best death bowler, plundering 43 runs off 11 Kumar deliveries, including a one-handed six in the final over of the innings.

Hyderabad’s Afghan spinner Rashid Khan, who many have found nearly unplayable, bled 27 off 13 against Pant, who has played four Twenty20 Internationals for India.

“One-handed sixes and hitting even good balls out of the park,” former test player Mohammad Kaif tweeted.

“This was as good an innings you will ever see in a T20 match against the best bowling lineup in the IPL, absolutely clean striking. Take a bow, Rishabh Pant.”

Pant, who was involved in two run-outs, hit seven sixes and 15 boundaries in his scintillating knock but was naturally dejected at his team’s failure to reach the playoffs.

“After the run outs, I took the responsibility and tried to do better for me and my team. I don’t know if it’s my best knock but till now it’s one of my best,” he said.

Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John O'Brien

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