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Emotions run high as Pant makes comeback 15 months after accident

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India’s newest cricket centre in Mohali’s Mullanpur is about to witness one of the most awaited comeback stories in cricket. Rishabh Pant, 15 months after a gruesome car accident, will be taking the field for the first time in a competitive match when Delhi Capitals take on hosts Punjab Kings on Saturday afternoon.

The Maharaja Yadavindra Singh Stadium, built over 40 acres, couldn’t have asked for a better event for its first live match.

The IPL, over the last four seasons, has generated buzz around MS Dhoni’s impending swansong. Pant, forever touted as Dhoni’s successor in Indian cricket, is likely to match the euphoria as he travels across the country over the next couple of months. His comeback story, if it goes according to the script, will definitely overshadow the match.

While the BCCI has declared Pant fit enough to keep wickets, the Capitals management has toyed with the idea of easing him into the tournament minus the burden of keeping wickets. Whether or not Pant dons the gloves, his mere presence is expected to generate a roar. For once, one could expect Mohali, infamous for low turnouts, to see a buzzing crowd on Saturday.

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Over the last half a decade, Delhi Capitals’ brand has grown with the evolution of Pant.

He has been pivotal in turning DC into a more consistent and threatening team. The team suffered when he was missing in action last season but now he is back as captain. Head coach Ricky Ponting, for one, couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve seen where his game is at, and don’t be surprised if something special happens tomorrow. His attitude, smile and what he wants to do for the team is infectious. Everyone wants to be like Rishabh,” Ponting said on Friday.

“Make no mistake, we have got a great team this year.” It’s only natural that there will be a lot of nerves going in to Saturday’s game.

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“He will be a little bit nervous tomorrow, playing his first game in a while, but nerves are always good because it means something to you. The day you are not nervous is the day you shouldn’t be playing cricket anymore,” Ponting said.

Punjab Kings, who are the perennial underachievers in IPL, would do well the ride the Pant wave and exploit the semblance of uncertainty in the Capitals’ camp.

Here’s the thing. Both captains — Pant and Shikhar Dhawan — have been happy-go-lucky guys. If anyone will be absolutely unfazed by the Pant wave, it’s Dhawan. Both adopt a ‘enjoy-the-moment’ approach.

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