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How Rishabh Pant bounced back from darkness and despair

A providential escape from the December 30, 2022 crash had raised serious doubts if he would ever play again. Those doubts have melted.

Rishabh Pant is fit to play competitive cricket again, 14 months after his brush with death in a road accident near Roorkee, Uttarakhand. Serious injuries suffered while extricating himself from his car, which burst into flames seconds later, meant serious doubts were raised about reviving his international career.

Rishabh Pant with Rohit Sharma in January(PTI)

It has taken the India wicketkeeper-batter two major knee ligament reconstruction procedures, a plastic surgery and an 11-month rehabilitation involving three physiotherapy sessions per day, aqua therapy followed by a customised fitness programme focusing on strength building, flexibility and running to finally be declared fit for this year’s IPL starting on March 22. His Delhi Capitals start their campaign the next day.

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Reports of Pant’s recovery running ahead of schedule was doing the rounds when he was spotted on the sidelines of cricket matches and at the DC table during the IPL auction last year. But Tuesday’s announcement by BCCI that he is also fit to keep wicket should boost India’s chances in June’s T20 World Cup, provided this IPL goes smoothly for him in the first place.

The all-clear for Pant, 26, was given a week ago by the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru where he had passed all the mandatory ‘Return To Play’ tests. Pant was already batting in match simulations, but more uplifting must be the clearance to keep wicket that will provide role clarity, not only to Capitals but also the Indian management that has tried Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson and Jitesh Sharma as wicketkeeper-batter in T20Is since Pant’s accident on December 30, 2022.

Also Read | Rishabh Pant’s first reaction after BCCI’s ‘fit for IPL’ update as Jay Shah’s ‘T20 World Cup’ wish comes true

On Tuesday, Pant posted his picture on Instagram, captioned “Keep smiling”, but that sentiment seemed a remote possibility as he dealt with the dark early months of recovery. Confined to the bed, he didn’t know what to make of it when doctors said he had been lucky not to suffer nerve damage. And then the robust cricketer who had made bowlers feel the power in his shots was simply grateful that he could again brush his teeth by himself.

The BCCI statement after he crashed his Mercedes SUV into a divider at Mohammedpur Jat, near Roorkee, said Pant had “two cuts on his forehead, a ligament tear in his right knee and has also hurt his right wrist, ankle, toe and has suffered abrasion injuries on his back.”

The exact nature of his injuries sounded more horrific when Pant, in an interview to Star Sports earlier this year, recounted how his right knee had been dislocated as he lay face down. “There was someone around, so I asked if he could help getting the leg back in position. He helped the knee get back in place,” he said. “If there was any nerve damage, there was a possibility of amputation. That is when I felt scared.”

Once treated for impact injuries at a local hospital, Pant was shifted to a bigger hospital in Dehradun. He was airlifted to Mumbai’s Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in January 2023 for intensive care. For the facial injuries and abrasions, Pant underwent plastic surgery. Scans of the knee revealed tears in the anterior cruciate ligament, the posterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament, all of which required reconstructive procedures.

For almost a month, Pant couldn’t move out of bed. On February 10, 2023, Pant posted the photo on social media of his walking on the terrace on crutches with the right leg still in a cast. “I wanted to update all the people who had prayed for my recovery and health,” he said later.

With the first few steps out of bed taken, Pant quickly took the recovery route, starting with three physiotherapy sessions daily, and sitting under the sun, hoping to be able to walk at the earliest.

That time came soon, and Pant reported to NCA where by June, hopes of a swift comeback started emerging. That Pant was very much central to their long-term plans despite very little clarity over the timeline of his recovery was also evident when BCCI included him in Category A of the annual retainership last March. At NCA, Pant alternated his rehab with aqua therapy sessions, light swimming and table tennis when he was not conducting interactive sessions —facilitated by NCA head VVS Laxman — with age-group cricketers.

In July, BCCI said in a release that Pant had resumed batting as well as keeping wicket in the nets. Throughout it all, Pant confined himself to his immediate surroundings, gritting his teeth to stick to the daily grind of rehabilitation.

“I asked the doctor how long it would take for me to recover. I told him everybody is speaking different things, but you will give me the most clarity about it. He said it would take 16 to 18 months. I told the doctor that whatever timeline he gave me, I would reduce six months from it,” he said in an interview to IANS.

Quite amazingly, Pant has kept his word.


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