What does Hardik Pandya the bowler do for India’s chances in the T20 World Cup?


Suddenly, even as he was expressing his anger-tinged disappointment at how Pakistani batsmen imploded on his YouTube channel, Inzamam-ul-Haq turned to his avuncular persona again as he began to talk about Indian bowlers. He made a very pithy statement about Hardik Pandya: “The way he got the wickets. His usage of short balls. He knew where to bowl.” Awareness. Skill. Execution.

It’s Inzy’s Pandya version that India would hope turns up in Super 8s if India are to beat the tougher teams. For a team that’s still hesitant to use their best spinner in Kuldeep Yadav, they would need Pandya, the intelligent seamer to come through time and again.

The emotional context is well known: the boos at home grounds across the country over the Mumbai Indians captaincy; even the way he faced up at the post-match presentations trying to keep a ‘cool’ cheerful face was trolled, and the speculations over personal life that immediately preceded the T20 World Cup.

The culmination of all this messy crisis had a symbolic visual involving Rohit Sharma. As Pandya shrugged his shoulder in celebration after a sharp well-directed bouncer to take out Shadab Khan, Sharma almost scooped him into a warm embrace that got the diaspora cheering in the stands. All (briefly) seemed well with the world of Pandya.

The proof though, as ever, will be his performances. Pandya the batsman is yet to get into the game, though he had one proper chance against the US where he couldn’t rise to the occasion. But it’s his bowling, as of now, that India would be happy with.

Range of weapons

What does he do apart from the short balls that have more pace than what the batsmen seem to think? He also has a good angler from a good length that occasionally nips back in more than the batsmen anticipate – the one he has bowled to knock down Babar Azam in the past. It’s probably his best weapon that can take out even good batsmen, but it’s not something that he produces often or rather more importantly, the extent of inward deviation isn’t always consistently big.

Festive offer

He displayed his overall bowling smarts in the 17th over against the US to Harmeet Singh. US had lost
their steam by then; in that sense it wasn’t a ‘game-turning’ over, but it’s good to replay to understand his thinking.

First came a sharp bouncer that rammed into the shoulder of Harmeet, who was beaten for pace. Pandya then followed it up with a near-perfect yorker that was just about stabbed out. The next ball was a lovely slower bouncer released like an off-cutter. This time Harmeet was too early into the shot and was hit on the shoulder again – and lovely smiles spread across the faces of both the bowler and the batsman.

Corey Anderson would charge at the next ball, spooning a top-edged catch to the ‘keeper before Pandya finished with another bouncer through to Rishabh Pant behind the stumps. If he had slipped in that nipbacker off a length, then that would have been a perfect encapsulation of his arsenal and how he deploys them.

Problem area

Then there are the weaknesses too. Occasionally, he slips in the full floater that has hit-me screaming all over it or the length ball that does nothing and can be hit on the up and through the line. He does try the well-outside off line but perhaps his pace when he hits a fuller length isn’t as quick or the difficulty quotient to the batsmen is lesser as compared to when it skids off the track from back of length. The latter variation comes more naturally to him – and the batsmen tend to successfully reach out for the slices.

In fact on his T20 debut for India in 2016 against Australia in Adelaide, MS Dhoni would gesture to him a couple of times to bowl that well-outside off line in his second spell. He picked up two wickets with that line though he also went for the runs. It’s a line that he resorts to as his Plan C perhaps these days or against a particular batsman known to be a bit iffy against that line.

He also uses the scrambled seam deliveries a lot more these days – that delivery tends to hold its line outside off and has taken the edges of as good a batsman as Steve Smith in the past – Chennai, March 2023, 3rd ODI. On more rare occasions, he can also get the leg cutter going – like he did to take out Mitch March in the same match in Chennai. He has bowled David Warner too in the past, in 2017, with that leg cutter though it’s not a ball that he has full control over to reproduce it on will. The scrambled seam delivery will come in handy, especially on slower tracks in the West Indies.

Confident or overconfident

He is a confident bowler, at times seemingly more confident than his bowling seems to warrant – like he did this IPL bowling himself ahead of Jasprit Bumrah in the initial games. It didn’t quite work on those batting beauts. His bowling is also such that one can’t still go into a game fully confident that he will come unscathed or that he can slip in his full four-overs quota. But his innate confidence in his own abilities can be seen most times. Especially if the tracks offer something to the seamers – then his nipbackers get more potent – or if they are two-faced as they have been in the US – then his back-of-length deliveries come at unpredictable pace to handcuff the free flow of the bat swings.

It says something about his makeup and that of the Indian bowling unit that the two bowlers who use the short ball more than the rest seem to be Pandya and Arshdeep Singh. Both don’t have that nasty pace, but both seem intuitively aware about when to use them as a surprise factor. Occasionally, Pandya can get carried away though with Rohit the captain always quick to have a word in the ear, the frequency of over-use has been lessening. If Pandya’s batting touch also comes back and if he continues to do as well with the ball, India’s headaches would lessen. The boos that have already stopped can turn to adoring whistles.

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