Bengaluru, 19 April, 2015. Mumbai Indians (MI) vs Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
It is Hardik Pandya’s debut in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the Mumbai Indians, and he walks out to bat with the reputation of a big-hitter hovering over him. Harbhajan Singh, at the non-striker's end comes up to him and says, “Jee le yaar, tu” (Enjoy yourself). He had to. The game had reached the death overs. In the second ball that he faced, Pandya clubbed Abu Nechim, the RCB bowler, way over the fence.
Hardik Pandya had arrived.
Galle, 27 July, 2017 — India vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Day 2
Hardik Pandya walks out on Test debut with the scorecard reading 491/6. He did not need an invitation to lash out. India had never lost a Test match after posting a score in excess of 450. They were 41 ahead of that mark now.
First ball. Herath to Pandya. Big stride forward and full face of the bat on the ball. Defended.
Second ball. Herath to Pandya. Bigger stride forward and full face of the bat on the ball. Defended.
Third ball. Herath to Pandya. Steps out and creams him over the head with a lofted shot that sends the ball walloping to the fence.
He is that kind of a player. The murmur around cricketing circles about Hardik was that he was a brash, aggressive player with a no-nonsense approach when it came to batting. By his own admission, he is an “expressive child”. He loves to feel confident. Cricket has seen such kinds of cricketers before. When in the mood, Hardik can win matches on his own, something he has done a lot of times for Baroda.
Yet, no one revved him up for Test cricket. That he would be an instant success in limited-overs cricket was a given. He has proved as much in his short career thus far. But Test cricket? Nah. That wasn't his ball game, or so went the buzzword. He was picked twice in the Test squad but missed out on a debut both times with injury and team composition intervening. But as Lanka beckoned, with the Kohli-Shastri partnership locking hands yet again, one could sense the moment had arrived.
“We have got a guy like Hardik Pandya, who is a wicket-taking bowler. Every game that he plays, on any surface, he has a knack of picking wickets. He has a great chance of playing as well", Kohli had explained the day before the Galle Test started. It was no surprise when Pandya was handed over his debut cap by the skipper himself.
Hardik Pandya - Test cap no. 289 for 🇮🇳
To see you play Test cricket for our country makes me extremely proud. Well done, brother! pic.twitter.com/RzAT5SV73Y
— Krunal Pandya (@krunalpandya24) July 26, 2017
Pandya isn't your everyday Test cricketer. He isn't someone who supports Faf du Plessis’ blockathon methods or Geoffrey Boycott’s policy to leave anything outside the fourth stump line. Yet, much akin to the way a certain Bill Foord at Barnsley Cricket Club exclaimed “Christ Almighty, what's this lad's name?” after watching Boycott caress him through covers, Pandya has a “knack” of making people sit up and take notice of him. Little wonder that the 'Master Blaster' Sachin Tendulkar himself walked up to him and predicted that he would be playing for India in one and a half years. He debut in seven months after that.
The 48 ball half-century on debut
When he stepped out to Sri Lanka's veteran left-arm spinner off the third ball of his Test career, he showed little nerves. There was urgency, but more importantly belief. Like his brother, Krunal, always stresses, Hardik is a "confidence player". Give him a confidence boost and he gives the team a win more often than not. He is a one-man army, passionate, pugnacious and in your face. He loves the smell of a battle. Why else would he thwack 76 off 43 balls and swear at his partner for running him out in a Champions Trophy final when his team were 54/5 chasing 339 as he came in to bat?
He was a freak, one of the highest order. He did not sense a battle at Galle, with the opposition short on personnel, energy and staring at a huge first innings total. But it was in his nature to mercilessly kill the opponent. He was unflustered when he saw Karunaratne drop a sitter as he edged Herath to the lone slip fielder. He did not consider it a slice of luck. Given another chance, he would repeat the same shot over and over again in a situation that would scream at him to go berserk.
When Nuwan Pradeep peppered him with a short ball, Pandya went at it with all his might. The ball flew off a top edge past the keeper and raced to the fence. But the next time the Lankan bowler bowled short, Pandya was ready. He smacked him through mid-wicket. It did not matter that Jadeja had been dismissed three balls earlier or that Virat Kohli himself had struggled against Pradeep's short ball. He spanked the bejesus out of the red cherry.
When Shami slammed Herath over the ropes, Pandya once again took on Pradeep, smashing two sixes off him, both of short balls. When the bowler tried the fuller length, Pandya was unruffled and nonchalantly flicked him over square-leg. Bear in mind that the very same bowler had had the better of six Indian batsmen in this Test. Pandya had made him look like a club bowler with all three of his biggies coming off Pradeep. When he tucked Herath for a single to notch up a half-century off 48 balls, Kohli would have been smiling.
The skipper had endured much criticism for his liking towards the Baroda man in Test cricket. Initial indications are that India have a solid utility player in their hands. He may not hang around and make 25 runs in a session or bowl his heart out all day long. But what he does well is apply relentless pressure with his methods.
"I don't take much pressure, I just keep calm. I put my hand up when the team needs me, when everyone is under pressure, I do it for the team, I take it as an opportunity and a challenge, if things are not going right, that's when you got to stand and deliver. If you do well there, then people will remember you forever”, Pandya had revealed in an interview.
Not the ideal mantra in cricket's purest format, but is anyone complaining if he can contribute when it matters like he did at Galle on Day 2? Jee le yaar, tu!