ODI World Cup 2019 Semi Final. India vs New Zealand. Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya were set and looked in complete control of the situation.
Two rash shots later, the Indian team had to let go of its World Cup dreams. Even the brilliant efforts by MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja couldn’t pull India through.
This was not the first time Pandya had thrown away his wicket. Time and again, he has gotten himself set and has gone for the glory shot, losing golden chances of winning his team a match. Months later, T20 World Cup 2021 raised even more questions against Hardik and it seemed it was the end of the road for the man.
Hardik Pandya’s talents have never been questioned. In fact, everyone has seen in him the possibility of having a proper fast bowling all-rounder, the first of his kind since the great Kapil Dev.
But some immature innings, a Caribbeanesque attitude, quick temper, and some coffee-induced loose talks outside the field gave him an image that shouted in silence: “He’s unfit for the position the cricket world wants to give him”.
Added to it were the injuries he kept on facing while trying to increase his pace.
Long story short, India lost the all-important team balance that Pandya could give them. Questions were raised whether Pandya could be played as a pure batsman at all, or should he be dropped. He was dropped.
A Changed Man
Cut to IPL 2022. Hardik Pandya entered the field almost written off, but as the captain of the Gujarat Titrans. Remember, this man played his last ODI in July 2021, and his last T20 in November 2021.
In neither of the two matches did he do anything worth a mention. His last Test? September 2018. He had scored 4 in the 1st innings and 0 in the 2nd, against England. Hardik had points to prove.
He had gone against the mighty BCCI chief’s will and did not play the Ranji season. Instead, he had chosen to prepare himself for IPL. “Money! Greed!” they all said.
But Pandya took everyone by surprise. In the 7 matches that the Gujarat Titans has played, we have seen an absolutely different man. Strategising around the field, marshalling his troops with an unforeseen composure – who knew Hardik had it in him?
Out of the imposing shadows of the likes of MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, or Rohit Sharma, Hardik seems to have bloomed into his own. He seems to be very sure of himself and his confidence is oozing onto the rest of the team.
Right after getting the skipper’s cap, Hardik had said, “Captaincy is all about taking good care of your players.” He has done exactly that and even while he has lost his temper occassionally, the captain has been able to bring the best out of his Gujarat Titans teammates.
“Success is theirs, failure is mine,” he had said in a Gujarat Titans event. It was not a mere lip-service, evidently.
Away From Glory
While batting for Gujarat Titans, Hardik Pandya has promoted himself to the all-important no 3 or 4 spots and has very responsibly carried his team on the splice of his bat.
The lack of maturity he has often been accused of seems to have vanished altogether as we see a calmer Hardik Pandya, staying away from experimental hits, yet scoring at a strike rate of 140, and at an average of 61 (as of Friday, 29 April).
Mind you, before Umran Malik won against him, Hardik’s average was above 75, the highest among the Orange Cap frontrunners this year. And on the top scorers’ list, he is on number 3!
He has scored 305 runs in 7 innings, with two not-outs, and a highest score of 87. This is almost unimaginable given the IPLs he has had and the kind of baggage he has carried along with him. The others in the top 4 are all openers. We were expecting Hardik the finisher. He has presented Hardik the builder!
As a bowler, again, Hardik has shown a lot of character and maturity. He has got only four wickets, but that is only half the story. He has backed himself to bowl during the fag end of the innings, and has still managed to keep his economy below 8.
Only Rashid Khan and Mohammed Shami have better economies in GT.
It has to be remembered that he hasn’t bowled for the last two seasons. Being a captain, he could have kept himself safe, but Pandya is throwing himself into the fire, whether batting, bowling above 140 clicks, or fielding with all his intent.
And, surprisingly, he is keeping the limelight away from himself. In fact, Pandya has already presented himself to be fit for a seat on the plane that takes the Indian team to the T20 World Cup in Australia. A groin injury has come in as a dampener, however, and we just hope he gets over this very soon.
But what might have been the cause of this? Fatherhood, like captaincy, is a difficult responsibility to take, and seems like Hardik Pandya is using both to his advantage as he grows as a person and as a cricketer.
Hardik thinks it’s his son Atharva and seeing him grow that has helped him settle down into a more mature individual. “He is teaching me to be patient,” the player said in the same Gujarat Titans event.
Before IPL 2022, experts like Ravi Shastri had predicted how this season might show who would be the next leader of the Indian cricket team. The fight, it was predicted, would be mainly between Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, and KL Rahul.
Hardik Pandya took everyone by surprise. Pant or Iyer’s form haven’t been that good since they took the captain’s cloak. Their on-field strategies haven’t been very wise always and Pant garnered a lot of criticism as he called back his batters, demanding a no-ball.
The other two new captains, Ravindra Jadeja and Mayank Agarwal, have also not been able to flourish at all. Captaincy and expectation have bogged these champion cricketers down.
Here, Hardik is probably the only exception. He has only grown in stature in the first 7 matches GT has played, taking the team to the top of the table.
With the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma facing lean patches and at least one of them inching closer to the end of his career, Hardik Pandya 2.0 is actually very good news for India. A beautiful prospect that all had forgotten of.