When India was struggling at 18 for four during the fifth and final One Day International against New Zealand, not even a single Indian fan hoped for a victory. The only challenge was to set a decent target before the Kiwis. Thanks to a superb partnership between Ambati Rayudu and Vijay Shankar, India recovered and reached 116-5. Then began the Hardik Pandya show! His 22-ball 45 cameos helped India to reach a competitive target of 252. In the last ten overs, 84 runs were added. The all-rounder smashed five sixes. Three of those came in a row off leg spinner Todd Astle. India staged a great recovery by 35 runs and finally won the series 4-1.
Flashback to January 6, 2019. Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul were seen to share sexist and misogynist comments on a chat show called Koffee With Karan. Following that both of them were sent back to India from the ongoing Australia tour of India. Social media outrage asked even for lifetime suspensions of these two. When some of them were comparing the duo with the likes of Ganguly and Dravid, the legendary former batsmen of India Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid didn’t back the idea of suspension. The argument was that the youngsters would learn from their mistakes and work on their potentials.
During the ongoing New Zealand series, BCCI lifted the suspension provisionally and Pandya joined the team for the last three ODI. Pandya made a comeback and how! His first match after suspension witnessed the all-rounder Pandya to take a stunning catch and took two wickets in ten crucial overs. That performance played a vital role for India to clinch the ODI series.
Hardik Pandya was tagged overrated following the ‘candid’ chat show with Karan Johar. This was all due to their ‘performance’ on the show.
Now let’s talk cricket!
Pandya might not be a legend but certainly, an important member of the squad in limited over matches. He is one of the findings of the Indian Premier League. His IPL career since 2015 has established him as a useful all-rounder of this generation. Since 2015 Pandya has played a total of 50 IPL matches. He took 28 wickets and scored 666 runs. He had a strike rate of 180.64 in his debut year and in 2018 his strike rate was 138.75. Even as a bowler he grew with time. His all-around performance has been an asset for his IPL team Mumbai team.
Now the need for a proper all-rounder in any team for the international stage is immense. For India even a few years back there were bowling options like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, who could easily bowl five to ten overs whenever required. To maintain the team balance, an all-rounder with a part-time bowling option is important. Both the times India won the World Cup, allrounders played key roles. The 1983 Indian team were full of allrounders like Kapil Dev, Roger Binny, Mohinder Amarnath. In 2011 Yuvraj was Man of the tournament for his all-around performance. He almost single-handedly won the World Cup for India with bat and also had a 5-wicket haul against Ireland.
But currently, the formidable Indian team often lacks the contribution of an all-rounder. None of the top order batsmen like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Rayudu can bowl. Hence a bowling allrounder is very important, especially the World Cup scheduled to begin in May.
India did try Stuart Binny and Rishi Dhawan for similar kind of role. Binny played 14 matched and scored 230 runs at an average of 28.75. He had a brilliant performance against Bangladesh when he took six wickets for four runs but overall he wasn’t consistent. Rishi Dhawan got three matches but failed to have an impact. For the playing eleven India always were in search of a consistent dependable all-rounder. With the inclusion of Hardik Pandya, Virat Kohli seemed to find a solution.
The Probable Answer
Pandya, since his One Day debut in 2016 played 45 ODI and scored 731 runs at an average of 29.24. Most of the time he batted at the 7th position and his strike rate at that position is 116.28. He batted in all the positions from 4th to 8th and his strike rate has been above 100 always. A good all arounder is required for a cameo role in the slog overs and Hardik is quite good at it. Pandya’s one of the best innings was in losing cause against Pakistan in Champions Trophy final. Even after India was 72 for 6 playing at 7th position, he scored 76 of 43 balls and gave some hope to India. Apart from Hardik, no one could cross the threshold of 30 runs. The team had all the big names from Kohli to Dhoni and Rohit to Yuvraj.
When it comes to bowling, the statistics speak for him. He took 44 wickets in the 45 matches he played at an average of 39.72. For a part-time bowler, the economy rate of 5.53 in batsmen dominated a game is not that bad. He even bowls at 140kmph and can be very useful at favourable conditions. His best bowling figure came against New Zealand when he took three wickets for 31 runs and sent batsmen like Guptill, Anderson, and Ronchi to the pavilion. India won the match by six wickets. In fact, thanks to the bowling ability of this all-rounder India won Nottingham test against England in 2018 by. He took five wickets for just 28 runs in the first innings.
It is not that Virat Kohli doesn’t have any other option for this position. One of the very efficient options is Ravindra Jadeja. But Jadeja is a spinner. India already has two world-class spinners currently in the team, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzuvendra Chahal. If the Indian team want to include Jadeja in the playing eleven, one of the duos has to be dropped. India went on with this kind of combination in Australia although for the long term it doesn’t seem to be fruitful. Currently, both the spinners have proved themselves so well that the team cannot be planned without any of them.
Since playing three spinners doesn’t make any sense India would like to play a part-time fast bowling option as an all-rounder. Vijay Shankar is another contestant for this position but he is still a newcomer. So certainly with more experience and consistent performance, Hardik Pandya is way ahead. He is clearly that perfect option for Virat Kohli for the World Cup. Conditions in England and Wales, the venues for the upcoming mega event of world cricket will be favourable for the likes of Pandya. So he doesn’t only help to maintain the team balance, he also can be an ex-factor, a key element for the Indian team in World Cup 2019.
Video: Interview Hardik Pandya