Mirpur, Bangladesh: Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant smashed his way into the record books with a 24-ball 78 as India colts gave Nepal a rude reality check by handing them a seven-wicket hammering to finish their league engagements unbeaten in the ICC U-19 World Cup here on Monday.
India will either meet Bangladesh or Namibia in the quarter-final of the tournament.
Left-hander Pant, who is in the IPL wishlist of many franchises in the upcoming auction on February 6, hit nine fours and five sixes during his fastest 50 in the U-19 World Cup history as India cruised to the victory target of 170 in only 18.1 overs.
For the record, Pant's 50 came off 18 balls. Nepal, who have been the surprise package of the tournament, were blown away as Rishabh and skipper Ishan Kishan (52) — both Ranji Trophy players — added 124 runs in 9 overs giving the 1500 odd people some breathtaking shots to
Earlier, Indian bowlers, led by Avesh Khan (3/34), restricted the Himalayan nation to 169 for 8 in a match that was reduced to 48 overs. Washington Sundar and Mayank Dagar also got a couple of wickets each.
A compulsive puller, Pant teed off by hitting seamer Aarif Sheikh to the cow corner for a couple of sixes.
A strong player on the on-side, the lad from Roorkee, who has honed his skills at Delhi's famous Sonnet Club, lofted Dipendra Airee over deep mid-wicket region for three huge sixes.
He could have walked away with a hundred had he not tried an expansive inside out shot of Prem Tamang only to be bowled.
When asked if he was in a hurry, the stocky and cocky Pant replied: "I was not in a hurry. I was just playing my normal game. Rahul sir told me to stick to the basics."
Pant is being hailed in the Indian cricketing circle as the 'Next Big Thing' with at least four franchises going to bid hard for the boy, whose base price is just Rs10 lakh. Delhi Daredevils, Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, all want him in the team.
One of the compliments that Pant got on his first-class debut, a few months back had come from Team India's Test wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, who had the first glimpse of the boy at the Kotla.
"I found him pretty different. And when I say different, I mean it in a positive manner. He is not like any other keeper," Wriddhiman had said then.