A Test debut for any cricketer is no less than a dream come true. And one such dream came true for Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya when skipper Virat Kohli handed him the 289th Indian Test cap prior to the series opener against Sri Lanka at Galle. Pandya has been in the international set up for a while now and has chiselled his path into the Test side riding on some impressive performances. Pandya has developed into a force to reckon against the white ball and looks promising for the longest format as well.
Prior to the start of the Galle Test, Virat Kohli spoke about Hardik Pandya’s chances of making his Test debut at Galle. “Last time, we felt we probably were a batsman short and the fifth bowler did not do much in the game. We have those options again, but we have great balance in the side as well. We have got a guy like Hardik Pandya, who is a wicket-taking bowler. Every game that he plays, on any surface, he has a knack of picking wickets. He has a great chance of playing as well,” Virat Kohli was quoted in a report from Times of India.
A fast-bowling all-rounder, who clocks an alarming speed of 140 above, is always handy for the skipper. To add to his good fortunes, Pandya is mesmerising to watch when it comes to batting. An effective all-rounder is like gold in any format, especially Test. He brings solidity along with options. India, for a while now, has been in search of a productive seam bowling all-rounder. And Hardik Pandya could well provide a long term solution to this.
Kohli also spoke about the importance of Stuart Binny’s contribution in the 2015 Test series. India lost the inaugural Test at Galle but bounced back hard in the next two games to seal the series. Kohli was quoted in Times of India saying, “In the next two Tests on that tour, we played an all-rounder and that made all the difference. The extra batsmen would give us more solidity. We have taken a learning from that and we will surely apply those straightaway in the series instead of getting a feel of how things will go. You need to have your best strike bowlers in order to pick 20 wickets.
Pandya has certainly added a yard or two of his pace, which makes his bowling more useful. Although his numbers in the domestic circuit are not very impressive but has the potential to establish himself in whites. Most importantly, he is just 23-year-old and has age on his side. This would be an ideal time to invest in his abilities if India are eyeing to reap fruitful results from Pandya for a long run. Pandya has become an integral part of the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Twenty Internationals (T20Is) format. He still has a long way to go and learn a number of things including variations and control. But the future looks bright for the swashbuckling all-rounder.
India have often gambled with five specialist bowling strategy in Test cricket, which puts some pressure on the batting to deliver. If Pandya manages to find success with bat and ball, he would certainly ease off a lot of pressure from both the departments. With overseas tours lined up in the distant future for India, Pandya’s inclusion will be handy as the conditions would assist seam bowling. India is expected to tour South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England in the next couple of years and Pandya can play a key role with his all-round skills. Also, not to forget, Pandya is a quick-learner and has shown signs of improvement with every outing, which is crucial.
Talking about his batting, Pandya has left a mark in shorter formats with his ability to hit the cricket ball hard and long. No, he is not the best of the timers nor he has Chris Gayle-like muscular power. But, his incredible swing of the bat is enough to clear any boundary with ease. He is widely reckoned for his belligerent approach and ability to play brisk innings against any kind of bowling attack. Well, the question of this approach finding form against the red ball definitely arises. But, aggressive batsmen have found success in lower middle-order. Adam Gilchrist has done a commendable job for Australia in the lower middle-order with his belligerent approach. Quinton de Kock has been on a roll for South Africa at a similar position and so is Moeen Ali for England. Matt Prior also did well while Sarfraz Ahmed has been impactful in the lower middle-order for Pakistan. Hardik can well establish himself in similar shoes (in terms of batting).
Pandya is a utility cricketer, he can give you good overs further providing a breathing space to the strike bowlers and well capable of getting quick runs. He is a livewire on the field, which holds massive importance in Test cricket, especially in the slip cordon. Again, Pandya has a long way to go and this is just the start of a new chapter in his journey. A Huge challenge lies ahead of him. He will have to find consistency with the bat and produce variations and control with the ball. But the future looks bright. At the moment, he is an apt selection for a seam bowling all-rounder.
In the ongoing Test, India are well placed at 399 for 3. The stage is already set for Pandya to make an immediate impact with the bat and help India post a massive total on the board. The pitch has enough help for the batsmen with the ball not turning a lot on Day 1 and Pandya should look to embrace Test cricket on a high.