Throughout the first few years of his international career, Hardik Pandya was unfairly compared to legendary allrounder Kapil Dev. However, even India’s World Cup-winning captain would be proud of what Pandya achieved with the bat and ball to play a massive role in the magnificent five-wicket win over World Champions England in the final ODI at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Realizing that he needed to step up as the fourth medium-pacer/fifth bowler after India lost their No 1 pacer Jasprit Bumrah to back spasms, Pandya, exploiting the bounce on the rock-hard surface, made the short ball his ‘WMD’, returning career-best figures of 7-3-24-4, with a first spell that read 4-2-2-2. This, by far, was his best spell with the white ball for India.
Batting at No 6, he then rescued India from a certain defeat, guiding the younger Rishabh Pant throughout their match-swinging 133-run fifth wicket partnership, while blazing his way to a glorious 55-ball 71.
‘Was in shock when MI didn’t retain him’
Pandya has been a different player ever since MI preferred to release him ahead of IPL 15 mega auction earlier this year. Determined to prove his worth, the Baroda man has just taken in his kit bag to England the sizzling form he showed in IPL 2022, where he scored 487 runs in 15 games, with four fifties while batting at the pivotal No 4 spot and eight wickets@27. 75, leading his new IPL team, Gujarat Titans to a title in their first outing.
“It shocked him when he was not retained by Mumbai Indians,” former India coach Ravi Shastri said on commentary during India vs England second ODI at Lord’s. “It was tough. . . MI had Ishan Kishan, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Suryakumar Yadav, and Hardik Pandya so they had to pick three out of those five. Kishan was obviously picked in the auction,” Shastri said.
The responsibility of captaining GT, Shastri felt, changed Pandya as a cricketer. “He was picked by Gujarat Titans, where he was given the extra responsibility of captaining, which did him a world of good. When given responsibility, he’s a completely different cricketer as opposed to just batting and fielding,” he said.
A mean bowling machine
What has really given teeth to ‘Hardik Pandya 2.0’ is his efficient bowling-since the time he took three for 17 to restrict the Rajasthan Royals to just 130 for nine in the IPL final at Ahmedabad it seems to be getting better and better.
It has helped that this is the fittest he’s ever been. It means he’s a yard quicker than before-in England he clocked in the 140s a few times-which means his short ball isn’t cannon fodder for batsmen anymore. For someone who essentially played for almost two years as a pure batsman after undergoing a major back surgery in London in October 2019, Pandya’s journey as an allrounder of superstar quality is inspirational stuff.
“A lot of people had written him off as a bowler. It was said that he’ll never be able to bowl again. However, his comeback as a bowler is great news for Indian cricket. His return has improved the balance of the team. It makes a huge difference when you have a fourth fast bowler in your side, apart from a spinner,” former India wicketkeeper Kiran More, at whose academy in Baroda the Pandya brothers-Hardik and Krunal-learnt their cricket, tells TOI.
What’s it that seems to be suddenly working for Hardik the bowler? “He has ‘realigned’ his action, which is better now,” says childhood coach Jitendra Singh from Baroda. “He worked hard (on his fitness & game) before IPL-15. Good form has seen him grow in confidence, and you can see that in his body language. He knows what he’s bowling. He’s bowling fast. He’s tall, so the ball release is good and gets that extra bounce,” observes More.
‘Match toh close kar!’
Throughout his epic stand with Pant, Pandya kept muttering some useful advice to his partner, who appeared a bit shaky initially, even surviving a stumping chance off Moeen Ali, before coming into his own. Revealing what chat he had with his partner in the ‘Manchester Heist’ post the match, Pandya said, “Let’s have a partnership, take the match as close as possible, and finish the match. Phir tujhe enjoy karna hai to kar le. Match toh close kar!” After Pant completed his fifty, the left-hander was trying for a risky single. However, recognising the threat of a run out which would’ve killed India’s chances in the game for good at that stage, Hardik turned him down. ” Main nahin bhagne wala ab. Shot maar aur run le.”
What’s in store next for Pandya, then? India’s T20I captaincy? Especially after what he achieved in the IPL. “I think he’ll become the India T20I captain after this year’s T20 World Cup,” predicts More.
In Pics: Ton-up Pant sees India to ODI series win over England
<p>Rishabh Pant’s maiden ODI century guided India to a five-wicket win and a 2-1 series victory over England at Old Trafford on Sunday. (Getty Images)</p>