AHMEDABAD: Impressed by Hardik Pandya's "leadership qualities" in IPL-15, batting legend Sunil Gavaskar feels the star all-rounder has emerged as a strong contender to lead the Indian team in near future.
Making a comeback after a subdued outing in the T20 World Cup last year, Hardik captained Gujarat Titans to a memorable title triumph in a dream maiden IPL season, forcing those who gave the first-timers no chance before the tournament to eat humble pie.
"Yes definitely. Not just my estimation, but everybody's estimation (Hardik's reputation as a leader has gone up). This was an aspect of his game which nobody had too much information about," Gavaskar told Star Sports.
"When you have leadership qualities, it automatically opens the door for honours at the national level to be able to captain the Indian national team in the near future.
"So that's exciting, there are 3-4 other names in the ring. I am not saying he is the next in line. But for the selection committee to have that option is fantastic," the added.
In a low-scoring final, Hardik starred with both the bat and ball (3/17 and 30-ball 34) to lead GT to a seven-wicket win over former champions Rajasthan Royals.
Overall, he finished the campaign in IPL-15 with 487 runs and eight wickets.
"We all knew what he could do with the bat, what he could do with the ball, but there was just a little bit of a concern before the start of the season about whether he would be able to bowl his full quota of four overs. He has done that, he has shown that. That all-rounder aspect is done, and everybody is happy."
"The way he has led the team, the way he has got them together, the way he has got them to gel together means he has got leadership qualities," he added.
A winner of four IPL titles with Mumbai Indians, this was Hardik's first trophy as captain.
Hardik has also made an India comeback riding on his IPL show this season, and will be seen in the upcoming five-match T20I home series against South Africa under skipper KL Rahul.