“Going into England and Australia, Pandya’s form will be very crucial for India’s chances”
A two-day victory over Afghanistan must be quite satisfactory for the Indian team management. In this historic fixture, they played like the No.1 team in the world and warp up the proceedings within six sessions. Ahead of the all-important tour of England, it was a nice little warm-up for the players. However, for me, the most pleasing aspect to come out from this match was the responsible batting of Hardik Pandya.
Coming into this one-off Test against Afghanistan Pandya’s temperament as a Test batsman was under the scanner. In his previous red-ball assignment in South Africa, following the breathtaking 93 in the first innings of the series opener at Cape Town, the hard-hitting all-rounder from Baroda failed to contribute with the bat. He scored 1, 15, 6, 0 and 4 in his next five knocks in white clothing and that below-par show raised a question mark over his place in the playing eleven in the series in England and Australia.
Hence, from this perspective, Pandya’s 71 off 94 balls has been a huge sigh of relief for the think-tank.
It was not one of those whirlwind knocks in South Africa or in Sri Lanka, when Pandya took on the bowling right from the word go. Here at Chinnaswamy, in the final hour before Stumps on Day 1 when he came into the crease, India were under a bit of pressure at 328 for 5, lose three wickets in quick successions.
Pandya batted sensibly to hold one end up. The Afghan spin duo, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Rashid Khan bowling in tandem and looked in good rhythm. The odd ball was turning as well. But Pandya trusted his defence, which is quite uncharacteristic of him, especially against spinners. One could sense his eagerness to remain unbeaten overnight.
Ultimately, Pandya played out that phase and remained not out for 10 off 21 deliveries at the end of days’ play.
On Day 2, during the major part of his knock, there was no rush in his batting. Pandya was willing to defend the good balls. And he looked quite confident while playing those defensive shots. He was taking his own time to set himself up before facing each ball. Against the pacers, on numerous occasion, he moved away to the square leg to get his composure right. Fortunately, the usual flashy element of his batting was not evident as such on Friday, at least till he crossed the 50-run mark, which came off 80-odd balls.
Against the likes of Rashid and Wafadar there were those odd hits and misses here and there but he never looked rattled. He handled the short ball well. Instead of playing those upper-cuts, he decided to get behind the line and play conventional hook and pull shots. Eventually, he fell to a short ball. While trying to play a cheeky chip shot over the keeper’s head, but only managed to produce an outside edge to Dinesh Karthik.
However, by that time, he had shown a lot of promise as a Test batsman. Maybe the performance has come against an inexperienced Afghanistan bowling attack but his gutsy attitude showed that Pandya is not just a glorified slogger, he can play according to the situation as well.
Going into England and Australia, Pandya’s form will be very crucial for India’s chances. In overseas conditions, Pandya can be the fourth seamer in Kohli’s team, bowling 10-12 overs in a day easily. In fact, he can produce those important breakthroughs as well. Besides, he is also an exceptional fielder.
However, to be in the playing eleven, Pandya needs to contribute with the bat as well. Batting at No. 6 or 7, he is expected to bat with the tail and produce those late flourishes, which he couldn’t in South Africa.
If circumstances don’t take a drastic turn, I believe following this knock in Bengaluru, Pandya has more or less secured his place in the XI for the first Test in England. Now, it is up to him to use his head on the field, especially with the bat in hand and live up to the expectations.