Hardik Pandya, the ace up India’s sleeve

CHENNAI: Hardik Pandya, the striker, showed glimpses of what he is capable of at the big stage against Pakistan in ICC Champions Trophy final this year. He showcased his hitting prowess yet again in his maiden Test series against Sri Lanka smashing a sensational hundred batting at No 8.
On Sunday, Baroda blaster enhanced his stature as a match-winning allrounder. In his early days, Pandya was looked upon as a guy who would give those 30 quick runs and a wicket or two with his medium-pace. However, the manner in which he pulverised the Aussies on the field with both bat and ball (83 and 2/28) has raised the expectation levels – the allrounder that India had been missing may just be here.
However, Pandya said “nothing” has changed. “I am the same Hardik I was a year back. Maybe people’s thinking has changed. I am glad with what I am doing with the bat and the ball,” Pandya said after the match. Skipper Virat Kohli said the Men in Blue are “lucky” to have a player of Pandya’s calibre.
“Pandya possesses all three skills (batting, bowling and fielding) equally and we are lucky to have him,” Kohli said of the youngster.
Pandya’s consistency in playing the key innings earned appreciation from many former cricketers. “Pandya has made it a habit of playing the big impact innings. Seeing one currently. Amazing stuff,” tweeted Sanjay Manjrekar.
Be it his blitz against Chennai Super Kings at Chepauk in 2015 or his superb last over against Bangladesh in 2016 World T20 last year or his six-hitting spree against Pakistan in the final of the Champions Trophy or Sunday’s heroics, Pandya’s self-belief and fearless attitude has come to the fore time and again under pressure.
Kohli termed Pandya’s self-belief as his biggest strength. “Pandya believes in himself and that is the key in international cricket. Hardik’s innings was the game-changer and he is smart with the ball as well,” said Kohli. Though a fierce hitter of the ball, there is an air of calmness about Pandya. He doesn’t slog, it’s clean ball striking, trait that has been appreciated by the experts. At Chepauk on Sunday, his assault on leggie Adam Zampa in the 37th over where he took 24 runs, was an example of clean hitting.
“I backed myself to hit the over before from Zampa as well.
Generally my plan is hitting straight -I don’t care if long-off or long-on is there. If I connect well, I know I will clear the boundary,” said Pandya. Australia were pretty much in control till then and it was Pandya’s attack that took the game away from them. Aussie skipper Steve Smith felt the pinch, but he was prompt to acknowledge that “Hardik looked like hitting everyone of those for a six.”
“In the end the partnership between MSD and Hardik proved to be a match-winning one. The message to Zampa was to bring his length back a bit to Hardik. He was just a fraction full and paid the price,” added Smith. Pandya, the bowler, too has evolved over the last two years. While he has added about 10-15 kmph to his pace bowling, him adding the knuckle ball to his arsenal makes him an all-round bowler for all the formats. The knuckle ball troubled the Australian batsmen and it also accounted for the wicket of Travis Head on Sunday.
“Pandya can do wrong; not today. Two wickets in two overs, a knuckle ball, a new addition to his repertoire,” tweeted former India opener Aakash Chopra.