"I have never wanted to be Kapil Dev. Let me be Hardik Pandya, I'm good at being Hardik Pandya" is the response from the man that took his maiden five-wicket haul and in the process ensured India took complete command of the third Test at Trent Bridge.
Pandya is no cricketing prodigy, but he has been blessed with a touch of fortune. In September 2015, he should have been at home in Baroda, but instead, he was at the Allan Border Oval in Brisbane. Pandya was drafted into the India A setup only because Tamil Nadu all-rounder Vijay Shankar had been ruled out due to an injury. Pandya was fortunate, but at the same time dedicated and hungry for success. So before the start of the four-day match against Australian A, he asked the national selector on tour – what is it exactly that was wanted from him? The first priority was to ensure he can bowl 15 quality overs in a day.
In the next two matches, Pandya achieved the objective. He had managed to send down 43 overs on a flat hard pitch. The wicket columns were not particularly fruitful, but the selectors had taken notice of his Pandya's capabilities with the ball.
Pandya was far from a finished product. But the selectors along with the Indian team management had realised with a little bit of fine tuning and guidance, he could emerge as a quality seamer. Fast forward to Nottingham and Pandya ensured all the efforts invested in his bowling would not be wasted, as sliced through the England middle order to finish with career-best figures of 5-28.
Such is Pandya's personality that everything he does is seen with pessimism. The tattoo's, the constant change in hairstyle, the diamond stud in his ear, the fashionable dress sense and the ‘want to be Caribbean accent' have always overshadowed his work ethic. At every training session on the tour of England, he has been constantly seeking advice from fast bowling coach Bharat Arun. In the nets, he will regularly ask the batsmen about the delivery he had sent down from his hand.
Before the second Test at Lords, he could be heard saying "mere writs se samaj gaya kya?" – can you pick the outswinger from the wrist? or he would jump wide of the crease and ask "waha se dala to farak pada?" – if I bowl from wide out did it make a difference. He is the guy that is understanding the art of fast bowling and with each session and discovering new facets.
However, during match days he only tries to execute what he is confident about. On Sunday in Nottingham, he had realised the ball was swinging, so he stuck to his strength. It was outswinger after outswinger. At no point, did he attempt to angle at the pads and look to trap the right-hand batsmen in front of the stumps?
At the press conference at the end of days play, Pandya explained, "I need to use the crease because with my bowling style the batsmen can get used it quite quickly. I don't swing the ball both ways that much. The outswinger is my main ball, so I keep using it, so I need to add that variety with the point of release."
After 10 Test matches, Pandya is coming to grips with his strengths. While Pandya will dispute it, he has the lucky charm and the canny ability to take wickets. At Trent Bridge, his first ball was a gentle warm-up delivery banged into the pitch. But the seam was slightly tilted and the ball lifted more than Joe Root had expected, it kissed the outside edge and into the hands of second slip. Pandya had snared the big fish.
In the next 35 balls, he has had the ball on a string. There was no experimentation and nothing wayward. He had one goal — pitch the ball up and induce the batsmen to drive. Pandya had bowled 24 balls on the ‘full' length approximately five to six meters from the bat.
The message was straightforward ‘drive me if you can, Jonny'. Bairstow did, not once but twice. For a bowler playing in his 10th Test, it was natural for Pandya to pull back his length, but that would deviate from his plans. So he tried again, this time he went fuller, Bairstow took the bait. England was on the slide and Pandya the Test bowler was on the rise.
His supple wrists and the atmospheric conditions ensuring the ball kept moving through the air in the last path of its journey. One by one the England middle order caved in. Just when he had looked predictable, he surprised Chris Woakes with a sharp bouncer to have him caught behind. A ball later, he trapped Stuart Broad plumb in front to claim his fifth wicket haul.
He raised the ball to the crowd and led the team off the pitch. Pandya the Test bowler had found his own way. Perhaps after such a sublime performance, it's time to leave the comparisons aside and let him simply be the Hardik Pandya, the man that he wants to be.