Even from the strict prism of success in sport, life is a complex riddle for most, a struggle to make sense of its ups and downs. You are up in the skies one moment and down in the dumps the next. In a span of eight to 10 years, life takes so many turns that even a lifetime can’t match it. Some are lucky to finish at the top, others fit in and out, while most fail to reach the finishing line, wondering did they lack talent or were they simply unlucky not to make best use of the opportunity that came their way.
These thoughts came to mind while reading a very entertaining interview given by the sensational Hardik Pandya to Indian Express a few months ago. For anyone wanting to understand the mind of a 23-year-old prodigy, who is already being talked about as the future Kapil Dev (if that is possible), that interview is essential reading. Hardik, who bats with a brutal intent, where the ball is meant to be treated with utter disdain, says he is a “zero or hero” sort of person. There is no middle ground for him. He prefers to either perish without a trace in the effort to win, or end up as a knight in shining armour, saving his team in distress and ending up as a hero.
At the moment he is a hero, someone the world is focusing on. In an Indian team surfeit with talent, Hardik is still special, given that he can not only pulverize the ball with his lethal strikes, but also hurl the ball at a speed which earns him the tag of being a genuine speedster. What is even rarer is not his ability to absorb pressure, but a self-belief that has so far made him score runs with the arrogance of an accomplished veteran. The post-IPL generation does seem immune to the debilitating pressures of an adverse match situation and Hardik is its best advertisement. His motto in life, as he himself professes, is: I come, I perform. If I succeed, I am, if I don’t I am not.
This kind of mind-boggling self-confidence, an attitude whereby you live by the sword and are willing to die by it, is something more common in the present generation. I had seen that in Virat Kohli a few years ago, while he was involved in a question and answer session on the stage. Some of us had to pinch ourselves to make sure this kid was for real. Kohli is where he is today not because of his immense talent alone, he is ruling the cricket world because he has faith in his abilities and the fear of failure does not seem to bother him.
The innings Hardik played in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan, when Indian batting had been torn to shreds, was awe-inspiring. The assault on the bowling was so intimidating that one could sense a fear of the unknown creeping into the faces of the fielders. Hardik, by his staggering hitting, made the ball disappear into the stands so regularly that many among us seriously thought that this man was on an unimaginable odd-defying mission.
When a run-out cut short his manic slaughter of the bowlers, Hardik was so livid that his walk back became an ugly expression of angry emotions and one feared for those who he may have faced while entering the dressing room!
A self-confessed lover of cars, as most of his generation with lots of cash to spare would be, Hardik displayed the same aggressive streak with the bat in the third Test against Sri Lanka while scoring what was to be his first century ever in first class cricket.
To say that Hardik is an exceptional talent, will be an understatement. What should worry the cricketing fraternity the world over is that he is only 23 and his best years are yet to come. As a teenager, he was far too expressive and emotive for the liking of the decision makers involved with his career. Now that his international career has taken off smoothly, he should prepare himself for the road ahead, which can get bumpy and will need skilful navigation.