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Focus on Rishabh Pant’s return as Delhi Capitals face Punjab Kings in IPL 2024

PBKS will play their opening game of IPL 2024 at a new stadium in Mullanpur

The build-up to the IPL game between Delhi Capitals (DC) and hosts Punjab Kings (PBKS) has revolved around two things. This will be the first game ever to be played at the Maharaja Yadavindra Singh International Cricket Stadium in Mullanpur. But more importantly, this is the comeback game of Delhi Capitals skipper Rishabh Pant 15 months after a gruesome car accident.

Delhi Capitals captain Rishabh Pant plays a shot during a practice session ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 match vs Punjab Kings(PTI)

Capitals coach Ricky Ponting is understandably thrilled about Pant’s comeback. Addressing the media on Friday, Ponting, sitting alongside a fitter Pant, said: “We caught up last year during the IPL and at that time he was on crutches. It was disappointing to lose him last season. Thereafter, I met him during the World Cup. At that time, he had started jogging. After that, I met him in the pre-season preparatory camp in Vizag and he was batting beautifully and keeping wicket very well. His is an amazing story. The Indian fans should be proud of the way he has shown grit to be back. It is commendable that there were no doubts in his mind about playing cricket again.”

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In Pant’s absence last season, Australian David Warner led Delhi Capitals to a disappointing ninth-place finish in the ten-team league.

Pant hasn’t played since featuring in a Test for India against Bangladesh at Mirpur in December 2022.

Having missed last year’s ODI World Cup too, the 26-year-old would be itching to get back into the thick of the action. It may obviously take some time for him to find his groove, but once he does, he is fully capable of treating crowds at this IPL to a batting exhibition.

“Coming from a long lay-off, I wanted to bat a lot and get into the groove,” Pant told reporters. “I may not have played since the accident, but I have been playing cricket since childhood, so in a way my muscle memory recollects and accepts when I play cricket. Being happy is important and enjoying the game is also very important.”

Now that he’s back as captain, Pant’s message to his teammates going into this 17th edition is simple. “We have had very basic conversations about the upcoming season and just giving our 100 percent on the field. We just want to go out and win each and every game. Basically, not complicate it much.”

Notwithstanding the morale booster that Pant’s return is, his presence also gives the middle-order a much more powerful look. None of Delhi’s Indian batters stepped up last season, aptly illustrated by all-rounder Axar Patel being the team’s second-highest run-getter behind Warner. With Warner, Prithvi Shaw, Mitchell Marsh and Pant likely to constitute the top four, there’s enough firepower for Delhi to make a substantial attempt at the playoffs.

“IPL is always an exciting time of the year. And it has got more exciting as the DC captain is back. We missed him in the team. He is the best in the world. He wants to win games. His positive attitude is back and that is infectious. We have had top-notch preparations,” noted the Australian coach.

“He is smiling, that’s the reason I am smiling. His teammates are also smiling seeing him back. He is ready to go, doing well with the bat and behind the wicket. Sometimes he does way too much. Like we are going to the practice session after this, and I’m sure he will be batting for over two hours. I have to drag him out from the nets mostly,” Ponting added.

For Pant, who has been with the Delhi franchise right from his first season in 2016, Saturday could feel like his debut all over again.

“There are mixed emotions. I am feeling jittery, excited and nervous as well. I am happy to make a comeback. I like to take one day at a time and not think much about the future. I do not have words to describe the feeling of being at the ground after being away for a year-and-a-half from the sport,” Pant said.

Amid all the attention on Pant, Punjab Kings, led by Shikhar Dhawan, will be eager to make their presence felt. They are not among the fancied teams in this year’s IPL as expected, but a win against Delhi at home will be the perfect way to begin a long campaign.


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