VIJAYAWADA:54/5 to 152/7 vs Pakistan, the Oval; 87/5 to 205/6 vs Australia, Chennai; 147/2 to 284/5 vs Australia, Indore; 322/6 to 487 vs Sri Lanka (Test), Kandy.This is Hardik Pandya’s tale in the last three months. From a journeyman, he has evolved into an asset that can help India become an all-conditions team. When Ricky Ponting first saw him, he termed him ‘ultra-talented’.
But the ‘showman’ tag that Ponting added, feared many, would consume Pandya. These fears did not stem from the fact that he comes across as a bit arrogant and cocky on the field. It came from the brashness he often displayed.
Those who know Pandya, say he likes to express himself, irrespective of the situations he finds himself in. He doesn’t get intimidated by the magnitude of the stage. In his world, he is the hero, the showman, who can get the crowd going with big hits as and when required, and be expressive. But there has always been this question: can he bat according to the situation? In a smashing manner, Pandya is putting those questions to rest.
Rahul Dravid, who worked with Pandya during the India A team’s tour of Australia, termed the all-rounder as a maturing cricketer who now understands how to play his game and also find the gear that suits the situations that he encounters. Having seen Pandya play a few crucial innings for India A in the one-day leg of the A team’s tour in 2015, Dravid requested selectors to hold him back for the four-day fixtures. His career has been on the ascendancy since. “He has taken the opportunity with both hands. When he came to Australia, he was originally picked only for the one-dayers. He performed well in the four-day matches as well. The credit goes completely to him. He is the one who has turned things around with hard work,” Dravid said.
In the ongoing ODI series against Australia, Pandya rescued the team in Chennai and guided the team home in Indore. He has shown he can be that ‘ultra-talented’ cricketer, who can bat wherever the team requires and provide the sort of flexibility that not many teams have. That he is a fast-bowling all-rounder makes him an X-factor, a sort of player who can turn the match on its head.
“It is not about one way that he wants to play. If he bats at No 4, he can play a particular way and if he bats at 6, he can bat in a particular way, like he did with Dhoni in Chennai. That shows his maturity and as a cricketer that is what you want to see. People keep talking about playing your natural game and I hear that all the time, but that frustrates me. Because there is no such thing called natural game,” he said.
Despite possessing a wide range of shots and the ability to clear the ropes, Pandya has been a reactive player, who can adapt to the situation, which he has picked up from the time he spent with the A team. “How do you play situations and are you good enough to play different situations is what is needed. Are you good enough to play at 35/3 or 250/3, or are you good enough to walk in at first over of the day, or are you good enough to bat after lunch? You can’t play the same way in every condition. You learn how to bat in different situations. If he can do that and that is what Hardik is doing now, it is a sign of a developing and maturing cricketer.”