At his best, few do what Hardik Pandya does. His gifts are rare and several — like hitting the first ball he faces out of the ground; like whipping up a six-hitting carnage, like clocking 140 kph with his first ball; like seaming at this pace in favourable conditions. He can wear several garbs — that of the selfless, single-ticking sidekick for Virat Kohli; that of the tie-end-up support act for Jasprit Bumrah, a finisher with the bat as well as the ball. On seaming surfaces, he can move the ball both ways; on sluggish decks, he unleashes his cutters and slower balls; he brings balance and ballast, but only when he is at his best.
Pandya is like a lab-designed multitasking specimen of a cricketer, but for a body that wilts in the cauldron of international cricket. There could be players more skilled than him in individual facets. But as a wholesome package, men like him are rare. More so for a country where fast-bowling all-rounders rarely sprout; even if they do, not with Pandya-like pedigree. Little wonder then that coaches, captain, fans, or whoever is closely monitoring Indian cricket, keep a tab on him, even though he last played a Test three years ago, and his appearances in white-ball cricket are sporadic of late. Even in those games, he seemed like an imposter of his peak years. [Read the full article]