“Aged just 24, he has aptly differentiated between confidence and over-confidence; nonchalance and self-belief and have shown that despite the words of criticism, staying true to oneself is ultimately the greatest triumph”.
A man with X-factors, but get’s carried away
Upon first glance, the frail cricketer can be dissed for looking “unlike” a cricketer. He is short and he is thin. Very, very thin. It is widely assumed that his bowling will lack pace and the muscles will not provide enough for the long shots on a consistent basis. Maybe, he is in the team as India more than desperately need a bowling all-rounder and his inclusion seems a step of “desperate times call for desperate measures.”
His attitude can prove to be a mighty turn-off for any traditionalist of the game, who has grown up watching the calmness that exuded out of Jacques Kallis or Rahul Dravid. He is instantly linked to the new generation of players who are the by-product of the flashy Indian Premier League. His half-bald hairstyle quickly changes to a golden streak and the number of tattoos only portray the nonchalance that he contains within himself.
Hardik Pandya’s international career, it might seem, has been intertwined with more accusations than the number of noteworthy performances that he has against his belt. He is termed arrogant and not passionate. On the field, every failure brings him down from the “next Kapil Dev” pedestal and when he exults in joy after the accurate run-out, he is often chastised for dancing without much to show for. For any other cricketer, these attacks and these words could have easily come down to harm the morale, but for Pandya, the aforementioned attitude is what relieves him of the pressure.
Coming up the rungs after some consistent shows in T20s at domestic level, the youngster won over Virat Kohli’s confidence with a striking hundred in his very first series in Sri Lanka. A few weeks before that, he had become the toast of the nation with a well struck 76 in 43 balls in the Finals of the Champions Trophy against Pakistan – a match where none of the other Indian players managed to even get more than 22. Such was his importance, that just after a few games for the country; he opted for a break against Sri Lanka, which was granted to him at will. Of course, he would play a huge role in South Africa as the fifth bowler on conditions where pace and swing would be in abundance.
In the first Test at Cape Town, when the team around him was hell-bent on defending and playing the waiting game, without much success, in walked Pandya – swagger and all in tow – to score a fluent 93 and showed the path with his counter-attacking moves. Ever since that innings, that in a way managed to shut down a section of his critics, he has just managed 52 runs in nine innings over both the formats. In the ODIs, he has figures of 3*, 14, 19 and a golden duck to his name, which was more than enough to turn on the beast mode in his critics again.
But what Pandya brings to the table is much, much more than just the performances with the willow. When Kedhar Jadhav was injured in the first game, the attention shifted to Pandya to adorn the role given to him. Though he has been in and out of consistency, he has never failed to recreate his magic when the situation demands it from him. In Johannesburg, when South Africa had to chase a revised target in 28 overs, with three bowlers allowed to bowl six overs each, it was almost a certainty that Pandya’s spell would be taken to the cleaners by the likes of AB de Villiers and he would be guilty of pronouncing the team’s death knell.
But what panned out was highly unanticipated. He gave away only 37 runs and more importantly, picked up ABD when he had just threatened to let loose.
But once he was dismissed for a duck in Port Elizabeth, talks once again swivelled around his presence in the team. And once again he rose to the occasion to send back danger men JP Duminy and de Villiers at the very right moment. A few overs more and the series would still have been alive. But his presence as that over-excited and enthusiastic fielder who never misses the close chances is what has really initiated Kohli’s love affair with him.
He does not shy at throwing every ball he gets towards the stumps. He runs around for the one-handed, athletic catches and scares the batsmen away with his ferocious throwing arm. In the fifth ODI, he ran-out Hashim Amla with the narrowest of margins, which effectively sealed the game for the visiting side. Like always, the hands strutted in the air and an unsynchronised sway of the body revealed his joy.
Self-belief is the key
For the athlete who is now walking around with a weird blue streak of hair, he knows that there will be more days when he is accused of taking the game lightly but as long as he can come together to pitch in with satisfactory results in either department of the game, he knows he warrants that place in the side. And for all those, who were questioning his “don’t care attitude”, should have been on the stadium when the youngster almost instantly walked up to Duminy to check on him after his delivery had struck the batsman on the grille.
Yes, he still has miles to go before he can match up to Kapil, but then, he never asked for that comparison. By setting unreal goals upon a player, it is natural that he will fail to reach that stage so early on. Aged just 24, he has aptly differentiated between confidence and over-confidence; nonchalance and self-belief and have shown that despite the words of criticism, staying true to oneself is ultimately the greatest triumph.