Hardik Pandya: unflurried, impervious and the yardstick for an all rounder
Hardik Pandya: The Goldstandard for an All Rounder
In February earlier this year, the Indian selectors appointed Rohit Sharma as India’s red ball skipper, to go with both the limited-overs formats, and dropped Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha from the test side. In a rare incident, Chetan Sharma, the chairman of the selectors, took media questions after the unforeseen announcement.
A whole lot of it revolved around the significant changes and the new appointment, but one question was not a question at all; it was a provocative statement. The essence of what the reporter said was this: nobody including the selectors-knows what Hardik Pandya is up to. He doesn't play domestic cricket ; he will miraculously rise from the dead to perform well in the Indian T20 League, and based on that well secure a spot in the World T20 Series squad.
Chetan’s response didn’t speak of a blueprint for Pandya, but instead asked the reporter to give Pandya a call and check for himself why he wasn’t available for domestic cricket. This answer sort of gave an impression that maybe even the selectors were not in touch with the all rounder. However, the chief selector did go on to ask the reporter to not undercut what Pandya had done for his nation.
The widespread drift- not just restricted to just the reporter- was loud and clear; Pandya is a punk, he only cares for the Indian T20 League, and he is above the regular conventions of selection. He was picked purely on his batting merit in the last showpiece event, the selector however asked the reporter to not presume that runs will not be enough to get Pandya back into the mix.
Pandya went on to bowl 30 overs and mount 487 runs in the Indian T20 League this year. No more questions over Pandya’s selection were raised thusafer. When entirely fit and on song, Pandya is a force to reckon with. Unlike any other seam bowling all rounders in the game, Pandya is levels above. There are other frontline bowling all rounders in this World Series; there is Ben Stokes for England, New Zealand have Jimmy Neesham and Caribbean's powerhouse Jason Holder among others- but neither of them can play as a batter or a bowler alone.
But Pandya comes the closest to that benchmark for an all rounder; he can play purely as a batter only, or exclusively as a bowler.
Let’s put numbers to this case to provide you a better insight- In matches between Full Members in the last year, Pandya has been involved in 27.5 balls every match on an average. He is positioned seventh in involvement numbers, but all others in the top ten-bar Mohammad Rizwan and Jason Holder- are spin bowling all rounders, neither of whom can play only as a batter or bowler. Holder, once again, is more of a bowler who gets more than he should in the Caribbean side.
Let us take a stroll down the memory lane to India’s inaugural match in the ongoing World T20 Series. Both Indian and Pakistan’s innings followed similar patterns. After difficult starts, both sides went after left arm spin in the 12th over, and utilised the short straight boundaries. When Pakistan were assaulting Axar Patel, Rohit Sharma brought Hardik Pandya into the attack to neutralise the effect. When India started to target Nawaz, Pakistan had to hold back his last over till the end.
Pakistan were forced to breach this gap with the inclusion of Mohammad Wasim into the playing combination later in the tournament. Wasim, who is a decent bowler, but whose batting average and strike rate are 18.44 and 122.05 respectively across all T20s.
Fundamentally, Pandya’s bowling prowess and fitness is the biggest difference between India at the last World Series and India now. Spinners’ role has been diminished in Australian conditions, which demands an all rounder who is more than a placeholder.
Pandya has not bowled enough as he used to bowl earlier, but he has done that ever so properly. You can’t think of him as a weak link in the bowling attack or sneaking in an easy over when he is at the wicket. His pace has steadily increased, bouncers have been difficult to play, he has picked up eight wickets, and has bowled at testing times, including overs 13 and 15 in a 16 overs game against Bangladesh.
If the selectors do create room for Pandya, it is easy to see why. He does what no other T20 cricketer does. Furthermore, he does something exceedingly unsettling for an opponent: he is not frightened of failing. This might be why he has become the T20 cricketer that he is.
Even if he is, he may put on a convincing appearance of disinterest in the outcome. During the Pakistan game, he told the dugout that he didn't care whether India lost; they played a good game, they lost-it happens.
An opponent's worst fear is a player who has nothing to lose. It implies that the player can execute to the best of their capacity without hesitation. Pandya has experienced self-doubts, but they were caused by injuries and his reluctance to completely trust his body on comeback. Pandya was one of three players who showed up for an optional workout two days before India's T20 World Cup semi-final against England in Adelaide.
There was no ball in any of the bowling practices. He just imitated his run-up, jump to the side, and follow-through perfection. This is a guy at peace with his body, not one who has been let down in the past at critical times.
Pandya seemed to be at ease in this competition. The way he doesn't get agitated by the match scenario, the way he prepares, and the way he communicates to those outside the team bubble: his indifference to outcomes will be crucial for the men in blue.
Nobody cares about what you did all year if you lose. That is why now is a fantastic moment to appreciate the balance Pandya brings to India, something only a few other T20 cricketers do.
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