“By rising emphatically to the occasion, the Baroda player reemphasized his importance and it would only be fair if henceforth, we view him not as a shadow of Kapil but as a player who is working his hardest to leave his own trail”
As Hardik Pandya first impressed in the highly competitive Indian Premier League, the legion of cricket followers were automatically segregated in half. The one who adored his fighting spirit, tattoos, earrings and weird-streaked hair intact and the other who looked at him with disdain, complaining about the influx of “non-cricketers” in a sport where sobriety loomed largely. Yes, it meant no tattoos, no earrings and no weird-streaked hair to begin with.
“I am not Kapil Dev. Let me be Hardik Pandya.”
They build him up, every rubble and stone going a long way in moulding together a figure who they would be proud of in the years to come. His silent nonchalance that is less arrogance and more confidence strikes and his demeanor, unlike another, throws him up as the poster boy of Gen-Y cricketers. Bold, brash, aggressive. But in the quest to replace an indispensable loss, the comparisons begin. It is a human psyche that tends to go searching for a lesser mortal who could live up to the reputation of an icon. Hence, Cheteshwar Pujara was the next Rahul Dravid. Ajinkya Rahane, India’s new VVS Laxman and Virat Kohli is soon to replace the original God of Indian Cricket Sachin Tendulkar. Pandya, with his seam bowling and his skills with the ball, was touted as the next Kapil, and it shall not be surprising to find the comparisons continuing long after he has hung up his boots.
So, there he was stuck in a vicious cycle. The fastest half-century ever in a Champions Trophy Final was his after he had clobbered away the Pakistani unit with a 43-ball 76 even as India seemed to go downhill and so were the deafening chants. After a long search, Kapil had miraculously returned albeit in the form of Pandya and it was unanimously agreed upon that the 24-year-old would be the sole answer to all of Indian cricket’s problems.
With a blistering fifty on debut and a hundred in his maiden Test series that was soon followed by a counter-attacking knock of 93 in Cape Town earlier in the year, Pandya in his limited time wearing the white flannels for India stood up to make a mark. All of 10 matches old and having played just one match at home against Afghanistan, Pandya’s batting average of 31.73 and a bowling average of 28 might not send ripples across the circuit but all those who had religiously followed his life and his career from the very start were aware of his big-match presence.
The same was not the case however with the troop who failed to find glimpses of India’s legendary all-rounder in Pandya. Hence, the fact that he was the third highest run-scorer in the ongoing tour accounted for little. The fact that he had tried his best to stick around and guide India home in the first Test when the illustrious teammates failed to do so was ignored. The fact that he bowled only 27.1 overs in the first two games was somehow Pandya’s fault. His 3 wickets at Lord’s was just a mere formality and in the world that is ready to fight for excuses, Pandya was India’s easy target.
Not surprisingly, the tattoos and the earrings had much to do with the criticism and in the stereotypical world of Test cricket where it is assumed that an individual can succeed only if he has a monk-like trance that Dravid possessed, Pandya hardly found a place.
Call it hard work or an act of destiny to change around Pandya’s diminishing aura, once Ravichandran Ashwin was injured in the second innings at Nottingham, Kohli looked to Pandya to compensate for the lack of overs. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami had spewed the ball all over the wicket in the first session and the English openers got to 50 for no loss before lunch was taken. Pushed to the back foot yet again, an encore from the English batsmen was expected till the young all-rounder was handed over the ball just as Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow were settling in.
The first ball that he delivered in swinging conditions was short of a length, straightening in the corridor as the skipper defended and played inside the line. As it seamed away before being latched on by KL Rahul controversially, Pandya was just finding his rhythm and in the next 28 deliveries, from a villain, he had emerged as a possible series-changer.
The best wicket was that of Bairstow that pitched in perfectly to hit the full-length area. As it angled in towards the middle and off stump, the batsman was unable to read the late seam as Rahul was up to the task yet again. His maturity was brought to the fore when in the same over, he surprised Chris Woakes with a surprise bouncer that cramped him up for room. The 33rd over of the innings ended with Pandya scalping two wickets, that of Adil Rashid and Stuart Broad and as he held the red cherry aloft to celebrate that turnaround that he had created in just 6 overs, all eyes panned out towards Michael Holding who it seemed had become the spokesperson of all individuals who had looked down upon Pandya’s abilities.
“He is not consistent. He does not have the control that puts batsmen under pressure constantly. He will bowl a couple of good deliveries, yes, but you need to have the control to put batsmen under pressure consistently. And he doesn’t have that. If you are going to be a frontline bowler anywhere in the world, if you are going to be someone that your captain can rely on, that can throw you the ball and expect you to get wickets and expect you to have control, he is not really the man in my opinion.”
Holding’s scathing assessment of Pandya before the Test match had seemed too critical but having gone 4 Tests without a wicket before the Lord’s game, the harsh words could in a way be justified. However, by rising emphatically to the occasion, the Baroda player reemphasized his importance and it would only be fair if henceforth, we view him not as a shadow of Kapil but as a player who is working his hardest to leave his own trail.