“The birthday coincidence turned significant when Pandya, after his heroic knock with the bat, even picked two wickets when the hosts came out to bat for the second time”.
Fight fire with fire
A 145kph Kagiso Rabada short ball hits Hardik Pandya in the unprotected midriff and then hits in the groin.
What followed next literally summed up Pandya’s day at work at Cape Town on Saturday.
The South African bowling attack – Dale Steyn, Kasigo Rabada, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander had had it enough trying to get an edge out of him. It was time for war. They knew Pandya meant business. They knew they had to get him out by hook or crook. Rabada attacked Pandya with a short ball that struck him in the unprotected area; for a second, the scene was a tad scary, but then it turned out to be nothing less than something more frustrating for the Proteas. Pandya squatted down, even before anybody could come to check on him, Pandya got up with ultimate swag, jumped around the crease and gave a cheeky smile to Rabada.
“Bring it on!”
First things first. There has always a part of critics who just do not show faith in Pandya. Even when he was selected for the South Africa tour, there were questions raised about his place. When India began their innings in Newlands and one after the other, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli threw away their wickets, there hardly would have been Pandya ending as the day’s hero.
What kept him apart from the other guys? His mindset and fearless approach against the fierce South African fast bowling attack. South Africa are boosted with four world-class pacers; they are so established that if two get tired, they still have two more who would keep going with the job. The hype about this was already taken to a next level even before the series had begun and maybe, this is why the senior players opted to play carefully. In an attempt to go the defensive and diligent way, neither of them managed to survive for a very long time.
They waited for loose balls against an attack as good as this one and hence they hardly found a way to keep the scoreboard ticking. It’s a simple formula when runs don’t come, pressure automatically builds and in that, the batsman for sure commits a mistake.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man
Pandya came in when India were in a miserable position of 76 for 5, still far away from the 87-mark that will let them avoid the follow-on. If Pandya also thought as his teammates and tried to save his wicket more than scoring runs, he would have found himself in the same place of pressure as the others. Instead, Pandya chose to counterattack. No, it was not mindless slogging but he found smart placements and went for the singles and converted those into two’s whenever he could. This pushed the pressure to the hosts and that forced them to bowl the loose-balls, which eventually were punished by Pandya.
But as Pandya spent more time at the crease, he only bettered. Be it Steyn, Morkel, Rabada or Philander, if the ball reached him, he drove. The Proteas then tweaked their plan and tried the short balls at him. There was no difference, Pandya showed them he was ready with some serious backfoot technique game too. He pulled, flicked and cut and did whatever he could to crush the opponent’s plan and find a way out for himself. Pandya, actually, went one step ahead.
Along with partying against Steyn and Co, he gave some tips to his batting partner, Bhuvneshwar Kumar too. Yes, Pandya, the limited-overs specialist, the once never considered Test batsman learnt from his game and passed on the useful information right then in a language South Africans wouldn’t understand. When Bhuvneshwar was on strike, facing Keshav Maharaj, Pandya shouted to his partner: “Three slow balls in, now watch out for the quicker skidder.” He said that in Hindi in a Gujarati accent. There was no way Maharaj would comprehend that.
He had even understood that Rabada and Morkel would not bowl more than three overs at a stretch in difficult situations. He would pass on that to Bhuvi so that the latter would relax for a while in relief that the two in-song bowlers would be away for sometime. All those conversations were loud enough to be heard in the stump mic.
Witnessing that knock from Pandya, one thought would have stuck to most of the viewers. Imagine what would have happened had in-form Rohit Sharma believed in his instincts and had played in his natural aggressive way rather than being defensive. Even Shikhar Dhawan tried to do that on an opening day but he got victimised to poor execution.
Some time ago, Pandya had never played Test cricket. He had never scored a hundred in an official match. From nowhere he was picked for the Sri Lanka tour. He took on the poor Lankan team mercilessly and smacked his maiden Test hundred. Many said, it came against a weak attack and that was a fluke, for sure. Pandya had forgotten it. The upcoming tour of South Africa was the platform he had to prove himself. He would be up against some of the best of the world, both bowlers and batsmen.
Remember, Pandya was given the Test cap by India’s best-ever all-rounder Kapil Dev. Since the legendary captain bowed out of the sport, India have never managed to find an all-rounder of his level in the longest format. Pandya’s 93 off 95 balls, coincidentally came on Kapil Paaji’s birthday. But, wait, that was not it. The birthday coincidence turned significant when Pandya, after his heroic knock with the bat, even picked two wickets when the hosts came out to bat for the second time. Of course, he was picked majorly as India’s fourth pacer. But, he can bat too.
Too early to draw comparisons and make conclusions, but Pandya’s innings in Cape Town might be a start of something special. You never know.