Hardik Pandya is quickly establishing himself as Virat Kohli’s go-to-man in the shorter formats of the game. A dynamic all-rounder who loves to express himself on the field, Pandya has come a long way from that brash, attitude-stricken youngster who Mumbai Indians picked up in the 2015 season. While his attitude has improved, it is his maturity at the crease that has been noteworthy.
Even when he slammed an 8 ball 21 to win the Man of the Match award in his inaugural IPL and Tendulkar earmarked him as a future Indian player, there were more than a few doubts persisting on his temperament and composure. Although he was in the Indian side within a year and played a vital role in India’s surge to the semi-finals of the ICC World T20, something about Pandya screamed inconsistency.
He, however, started off his ODI career with a bang, grabbing the Man of the Match award on his debut against the Kiwis in October 2016. But Pandya’s biggest turning point probably came on a day which most Indians would not want to remember – June 18, 2017.
On this day, India clashed against their arch-rivals, Pakistan, in the Champions Trophy finals at The Oval and lost miserably but Hardik Pandya stood out with a dazzling, aggressive 43-ball 76. What was even more special was the fact that India were 54/5 when he walked in and launched a spirited counter-attack that culminated in a face-off, borne out of passion, with his partner Ravindra Jadeja when he was run-out.
That has been the change Pandya has brought about in this Indian batting line-up. Earlier, a top-order collapse would see Dhoni battling it out with the tail and helping India to a reasonable total. But Pandya’s gameplan is different. He goes the counter-attacking route, transferring the pressure onto the bowlers with his ‘go for all’ attitude.
It paid off once again at Chennai in the first ODI of the series against Australia. India were in a rut with Nathan Coulter-Nile reducing them to 11/3 and Marcus Stoinis converting it to 87/5. In walked Hardik Pandya, unfurling some pleasing shots after an uncertain start.
He had looked awkward at the start with his defensive technique against the short ball and loose driving outside the off-stump prompting glares. But an arched back uppercut of Stoinis for four got him into his groove. He took his time to adjust to the pace of the wicket and was even let off by Steven Smith in the slips when he edged one from Coulter-Nile. A near run-out and a miscued pull followed which gave an impression that Pandya was nervous.
But this youngster from Baroda is a man of steel. The World knew it when he took on a rampant Mohammad Amir in the finals of an ICC tournament at a bustling Oval. If anyone brushed it aside as a one-off fluke, Pandya was out to prove them wrong here in Chennai.
His first 35 runs came in 45 balls as he aided Dhoni in resurrecting India’s innings but Pandya has this inherent ability to grab the match by the scruff of its neck and impose himself on the opposition. Krunal Pandya, his brother and Mumbai Indians teammate, describes him as someone “won a lot of matches single-handedly” in club cricket.
When Adam Zampa, with figures of 7-0-28-0, came into the attack, Pandya was merciless. He chipped one over mid-off for four before going bonkers and bludgeoning him for a hat-trick of sixes. If you haven’t watched cricket for a while, this is a habit for Hardik Pandya. He loves smashing sizes in succession. In fact, since 2000 only three other batsmen have hit a hat-trick of sixes in ODIs three or more times (AB de Villiers – 4, Chris Gayle – 3 and Sanath Jayasuriya – 3). But what sets Pandya apart in this list is the fact that he has achieved this in a matter of 4 months, with his grand total of sixes in ODIs still one short of 20.
He drilled 24 in that Zampa over, spoiling the leggie’s figures but more importantly giving India some much needed impetus. His half-century came in 48 balls and now he was starting to look so ominous that he started creaming Pat Cummins’ pacy short balls, James Faulkner’s well-disguised cutters and Marcus Stoinis’ slower balls.
He dug into Zampa once again and slammed him for yet another six in his next over but soon miscued another slog to be caught at short third-man. His 83 is the highest by an Indian from no.7 or lower against Australia in ODIs going past Robin Singh’s 75 in 1999 at Colombo.
While he would rue that fact that he couldn’t get that coveted maiden ODI hundred, his career-best score gave India the kind of momentum needed to reach a par score on a lively pitch. His flashy and unorthodox yet effective method is rapidly improving his credentials as India’s premier all-rounder, at least in the shorter formats.