Fearless hitting is the very essence of T20 cricket. Hardik Pandya, the 22-year-old Baroda cricketer, playing only his second innings in international T20 cricket, might not have made many runs on Friday. But what stood out by a mile was the 5-match old youngster’s bold willingness to take it to the bowlers at the highest level.
It was the sort of aggressive temperament that made a young Yuvraj Singh such a phenomenon in the shorter format not so long ago. And now for Pandya to refreshingly hammer the fundamental nature of T20 cricket so powerfully on the international stage is the best thing that could have happened to Indian cricket of late.
In the context of the match, his 12-ball 27 (2x6, 1x4) might not have been a standout contribution. But where India are trying to mould a team of world beaters for the ICC World T20 starting next month, Pandya’s mindset and ability to play big shots under pressure fit very well in the overall scheme of things.
In fact, the inclusion of Pandya and fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah has brought a spring in the step of the team, particularly in conditions so typically Indian. In one swift, exemplary performance, the duo and, of course, the team obliterated the disastrous performance in Pune from memory.
Shikar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, whose form at the top of the order is so vital to the team’s fortunes, fired on all cylinders to show that they are easing themselves into the right form for the tougher battles ahead.
The left-handed Dhawan is a vital cog and the manner in which he blazed away augurs well for India.
In many ways the Ranchi game was a test for the players. For one, the pitch was as good or as bad as any that could be expected in the early part of the Indian summer when the World T20 would be staged.
It was dusty, slow and relatively low; just the sort that aggressive batsmen would find challenging to counter.
Thus to get to almost 200 runs in 20 overs was outstanding and made possible only through the belligerent mindset of Dhawan (51 off 21 balls), Rohit (43 off 36), Suresh Raina (30 off 19) and Pandya (27 off 12)
Ajinkya Rahane (25 off 21 balls) was more circumspect. In all probability he, rather than Pandya or Yuvraj, might have to yield place to Virat Kohli in the championship line-up.
While the Ranchi pitch was so typically Indian, the outfield was a disgrace. It was patchy, dusty, uneven and hardly the best advertisement for Indian cricket.
Sure, it is difficult to maintain grass on the outfield at this time of the year. But that’s hardly an excuse when other sports get around this problem by using products like Green Lawnger.
The poor quality of the outfield, however, did not deter Indian fielders from giving an electrifying performance.
Raina, Pandya, Jadeja, Rahane, Rohit and Mahendra Singh Dhoni himself were absolutely outstanding on the field.
Skipper Dhoni pulled off two brilliant stumpings to set a very high standard and the team maintained that right through.
Where India played with so much flair and determination, Sri Lanka, who seemed so dominant in Pune, simply withered under the onslaught.
Dhoni’s touch as captain too stood out, particularly in foxing the aggressive opener Tillakaratne Dilshan. He served him spin first up and sent him packing with that quick-silver stumping.
Even as left-arm pacer Ashish Nehra found success with the new ball, Dhoni smartly took pace off the ball and fed the Lankan top order with an overdose of spin.
He used Ashwin, Jadeja, Yuvraj and Raina up front and unleashed the sharp in-tilt of paceman Bumrah towards the end of the innings.
Thus, just as the batsmen at the top were unsettled by spin, those at the tail were mopped up by pace. In T20 terms the 69-run win was as emphatic as an innings victory in Test cricket.
Overall the recent inclusions of Bumrah and Pandya has revitalised the team for the shorter format of the game. Hopefully, Yuvraj the batsman can join the party and take the team to stratospheric levels in the forthcoming World T20 tournament.