If you have an asset, you do everything possible to protect it and probably increase its value as well. Hardik Pandya, at the moment, is no less than an asset for Indian cricket. He has done many spectacular things in his short international career so far. However, none of them seemed to be channeled in the right direction and his aggression lacked a much-needed control.
So, the pundits and the fans were of the opinion that he needed more time and proper mentoring to reach the full potential of his enormous talent. And India, ever since discovering him, have been doing everything in their power to protect, grow and nurture him into a valuable, dependable and reliable all-rounder for the future.
However, with his all-round performance against Australia on Sunday, Pandya showed that he is working hard to reach his full potential sooner rather than later. An innings of 83 runs off just 66 deliveries after walking out to bat with India on a score of 87/5 showed his ability to respond to pressure with confidence. Moreover, bowling figures of 2/28 in four overs while defending a total of 164 runs in a rain curtailed 21-over innings, proved further that he pays equal attention to his bowling which is considered to be his weak link. All in all, the maturity he showed as a player on Sunday was never seen in his approach to the game before.
Not many would have expected the 23-year old to rescue India in the way he did when they had lost half of their side for less than a hundred runs. He had done something like that before, that too, in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan in June. A whirlwind innings of 76 runs off just 43 deliveries had given Pakistan a scare of a defeat. Unfortunately, the innings had ended with a run out.
This time, against Australia, he seemed to be in the mood to complete what he started on the night of the Champions Trophy final. He began cautiously against the pacers with a defensive mindset and aimed to dig deep. Moreover, he had a mentor in MS Dhoni at the other end who kept advising him to take the innings as deep as possible. And he did exactly what his senior partner asked him to do.
He kept playing according to the merit of the deliveries without trying anything extravagant. It did seem like Dhoni was drawing out all the plans and Pandya was just executing them. However, it requires immense maturity even to execute those plans. Experienced batsmen like Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli had failed to survive the Australian fast bowlers. Moreover, Kedar Jadhav also didn’t show the temperament to hang around in the middle along with Dhoni. Dhoni looked furious when Jadhav got dismissed and it clearly looked like Jadhav hadn’t done what he had asked for.
In any team sport, you need to believe in your teammates as much as you do in yourself. And Pandya kept utmost faith in whatever Dhoni told him to do and carried his innings forward accordingly. Dhoni gave him the license to go for the big ones when the time finally arrived to accelerate the innings. And Pandya did that much to his delight.
He took Adam Zampa to the cleaners, smashing him for a hat-trick of sixes in the 37th over of the innings. He showed the same courage against the pacers as he smacked Marcus Stoinis for a huge six over his head in the very next over. Zampa seemed to be the only weak link in the Australian bowling line-up and the duo wanted to score as much possible off him.
Pandya, once again, went for the big ones in Zampa’s next over. He connected the first one well enough to set it sailing over long on for a six once again. However, he perished on the very next delivery miscuing a slog sweep that went straight into the hands of the short third man fielder. Thus, a magnificent knock of 83 runs, studded with five fours and as many number of sixes, came to an end. However, it had helped India go past the 200-run mark which seemed to be impossible at one point of time. Dhoni too didn’t seem as distraught on Pandya’s dismissal as he seemed to be on Jadhav’s.
The reason has to be that Pandya had done his job well enough and he perished responding to the demands of the situation. Many people also criticised him for throwing his wicket away. However, little did anyone realise that he got dismissed doing what he was required to do. Without his innings, it wouldn’t have been possible for MS Dhoni alone to rescue the Indian innings.
What turned out to be more impressive on the day was his bowling. He seemed to have added a new lot of slower balls to his repertoire. A good command over the knuckle ball was visible as he dismissed both Steve Smith and Travis Head off knuckle balls. Moreover, he also bowled at a good pace and showed consistency in line and length that was not visible before in his bowling. Those two wickets turned out to be vital in the context of the game as both of them were dangerous batsmen capable of taking the game away single-handedly. However, Pandya made it all possible with his infectious arrogance, confidence and style.
This marvelous all-round performance is just a glimpse of what he can do when he reaches his full potential. The maturity is already evident in his approach and now he just needs to focus on the technicalities of his game. Pandya, indeed, has come of age as a player.