Transition is in the air with Hardik Pandya’s appointment as the T20 captain for the series against Sri Lanka though it remains to be seen if it’s a permanent change as the board has been typically quiet about the absence of Rohit Sharma and other seniors from the series. Be that as it may, the Sri Lanka T20s and possibly another three against New Zealand leaves the door ajar for Pandya the captain to push through.
Pandya’s room door, incidentally, was a prized landmark to the youngsters in Gujarat Lions, the team he successfully captained to a IPL triumph. It would remain open, he had told them in interactions, and when youngsters checked in the evenings, they were surprised to see that it was indeed the case. A young Sai Sudarshan in his debut season could walk in and leave the room with his confidence boosted and a feeling that he belongs. The players talk about how accessible he was, how he put them at ease without any airs, and as the tournament progressed, his open room was frequented by the young and the seniors, Indians and foreigners.
Among the expected pre-series captaincy bytes, there was one interesting quote from the new captain about the past.
“Before World Cup, we didn’t do anything wrong. Our template, our approach were the same. But of course at the World Cup things didn’t go the way we wanted. Even our approach was not exactly what it was before the World Cup,” he said. The approach was the year-long talk leading up to the world cup from Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid about positivity.
In Pandya’s telling, it faded out during the world cup. And in the series he immediately led after the world cup, he addressed the issue, he says. “What we have noticed and told the boys is to just go out there and express yourself, which they will do. And it is up to us as to how we back them. We have told them that we would back them to the core and all the players have that support from my side.”
The comment about what lacked and what he did in the aftermath seems to indicate a man assured about his role and someone who isn’t necessarily seeing it as a short-term stop-gap. Time will tell.
As his victorious IPL captain can tell him. Five-times IPL winner Rohit hasn’t transitioned that success yet to the national role. That is one tournament of one format with build-up, bonding, strategising, and time to execute. Indian role spills all over the year with various uncontrollable and variables coming in.
One good thing in his corner is his age. Not old to be termed ‘paaji’, not too young to be viewed as callow, he connects easily with the likes of Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan, Prithvi Shaw.
He has the street cred with the youngsters with his flamboyance. The word is that he isn’t too rigid or too intense nor authoritarian.
His childhood coach Jeetender Singh had once told this newspaper about this ‘flamboyant style’. “He is so emotional at heart. All this is just on the outside. He is a coconut; hard outside, soft inside.” He is one modern-day Indian cricketer who doesn’t mind shedding tears on camera.
Of course, there were instances at the IPL where he lost his cool a couple of times, but largely he came across as a captain who gave the players the space to express themselves.
They say that he isn’t fixated too much on match-ups and as the world saw with his interactions with the coach Ashish Nehra, he is someone who takes on advice without any hangups. Often, Nehra would pull the strings from the dug out on the field and Pandya seemed to welcome it. In that, he is like Eoin Morgan, who sought directions from his think tank with even reminders and tactical shifts done in public from the dug out.
So for a team that wants to change the trend about how they go about their business in T20Is by investing in next gen of cricketers, it is perhaps fitting that Pandya fits the bill.
“Obviously, the plans are set. We are looking to play a certain way and we will and before the IPL we have just 6 games so we don’t have time to do a lot of things. But going forward we will keep creating new plans which are working for us and everyone gets ample opportunities.
“Role clarity is something I believe in my team, everyone should have a clear idea of what their roles and what they expect from me,” Pandya said on the eve of the first T20I against Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
With the likes Kishan, Gill, Suryakumar, Sanju Samson, Washington Sundar in the mix, who all add plenty of colour and substance, Pandya can show the roadmap to the 2024 World Cup which will be played in the Caribbean and the United States.
To start with Pandya would need the sort of openers who put the pressure on opposition from the first ball, which is why it is still surprising that India have not looked at Shaw.
He is an opener, who is known to give explosive starts, but at the moment is down in the pecking order. With Kishan all but assured of opening, it will be interesting to see who they go with Gill or Gaikwad. Both may not be powerful strikers, but have a strike-rate of 128.72 and 133.96. It is not higher than that of Rohit and Rahul, so at some point, India might have to go with Shaw who strikes at (151.67).
Pandya said his job is to give utmost support to the players selected.
“Whoever is here, they are the best Indian cricketers and that is the reason why they are here. So I have to make them believe that and that is a fact as well. So for me it is important how I can make them feel they are the best in their business. If I can get that done and put my confidence in them, I don’t think they will have any difficulty in international cricket. They will flourish and will have an amazing career ahead.”