As the lookout for India’s next Kapil Dev in the Indian Cricket circuit transformed from a mere obligation to a frustrated desperation, Baroda all-rounder Hardik Pandya remained cocooned in his shell, pledging to emerge and romp high when the time was perfect.
From the likes of Irfan Pathan to Stuart Binny, each player was tried and tested, evaluated and dissected without much success. While some faded out after the atrocious attempts of India’s then-coach, others fizzled out due to their own inconsistencies and inaccuracies.
India’s search for the elusive all-rounder always gave way to a sorry conclusion- there remained no noteworthy batsman who could prove to be a handy bowler in the nation. None. Not one. No one who would effectively be a mighty striker of the ball AND bowl his quota of overs. The scenario appeared bleak; even unfortunate to many.
Enter Pandya. Covered with a number of eccentric tattoos and even more eccentric hairstyles, the youngster immediately impressed with his outing in the Indian Premier League franchise Mumbai Indians. Along with the swaying dance moves, he packed in economical overs with the ball as well as hefty blows with his blade, that often roared over towards the rope. But would he be good enough to play for the national team on a regular basis? Would he be defined by longevity as he struck about marking his imprint on the international stage or was he just another player who yearned for an IPL contract and failed to replicate his deeds for the country? Did he have the attitude to go that far and be the Kapil Dev that India had been searching for?
All queries and doubts have emphatically vanished in a matter of 20 months as the right-hander has managed to impress and amaze one and all. As a bowler, he is unafraid to tell his skipper to leave the proceedings in tense moments to him. He is unabashed while successfully defending targets of less than 10 in the last over. He runs in to bowl his stipulated overs with a menacing outlook that leaves his teammates awestruck.
As a batsman, he is nonchalant while he takes on the mightiest and scariest of the bowlers. He abolishes them with sixes that go so far, one has to strain one’s eyes and neck to see their eventual resting spot. When the team is down in the dumps, he single-handedly takes it upon himself to land them near sniffing distance of a victory, and it would not be a hyperbole to suggest that Pandya’s heroics in the Final of the ICC Champions Trophy against Pakistan further enhanced his legacy.
On the field, he dives and stretches, flies and hands the most astonishing catches that there ever will be. All in all, he is a cricketer who is a complete team player to the core and fearless in his spirit.
Since his debut, he has bowled 198.2 overs in 29 ODI games, bowling almost 7 overs per game at an average, picking up 31 wickets at a strike rate of 38.3. In the batting arena, he has constantly notched up a strike rate of above 120 in both the 50-over and T20I formats.
In the T20 Internationals, he has bowled with an average of 27.70 and a bowling strike rate of 20.2. He immediately made a mark in his Test career as well, notching up a century in his maiden series against Sri Lanka. He also picked up 4 wickets in three Tests, at an average of 20.
After a successful IPL this year, in which he managed a strike rate of 156.25 with the bat and an average of 35.5 with the ball, the Indian national selectors earmarked him as a serious talent for the future.
By resting the flamboyant player, who has played 22 ODIs, 3 Tests and 5 T20Is since June this year, for the series against Sri Lanka later this month, the Board of Control for Cricket in India have strongly issues a statement on the importance of Pandya in the national line-up and the extended role he is expected to play in the tour to South Africa, commencing next month. By wrapping him up in cotton wool, they have further tried to protect the integral player from burnout for a series in which he is expected to play a huge role.